Intellectual Property guide for startups

Intellectual Property

Almost every startup business has its own logo, website or invention. All of those we call its Intellectual Property (IP), which should be protected.

In this article we’ll clear up and broaden your knowledge about:

  • patents,
  • trademarks,
  • trade secrets.

Startup companies have many reasons why they should protect their IP. Firstly, to boost their competitive advantage and increase the value of their business and what is also important – startups need to invest into intellectual property to be more attractive to investors.

In view of these aspects, companies need to take active steps to protect IP by filing patent applications where necessary, registering trademarks and taking appropriate steps to protect trade secrets. That’s why startup should create intellectual property on the early stages of its existence.

Patent

Every owner should have an understanding and know the basics of patent law to protect his innovations. A patent ensures financial benefits to its owner, as well as providing protection from copying by competitors.

What do we mean by patent? A patent is essentially a limited monopoly whereby the patent holder is granted the exclusive right to make, use, and sell the patented innovation for a limited period of time (in most countries for 20 years). Patents shall be granted – regardless of the field of technology – for any inventions which are new, which involve an inventive step or which are capable of industrial application.

What is patentable?

We can distinguish three features that describe which inventions are patentable:

  • The invention must be new,
  • The invention must be useful,
  • The invention must not be obvious to a person skilled in the art.

What is non-patentable?

Inventions like:

  • discoveries,
  • scientific theories,
  • mathematical methods,
  • aesthetic creations,
  • schemes,
  • rules and methods for performing mental acts,
  • doing business,
  • playing games,
  • creations,
  • whose incapability of exploitation may be proven under the generally accepted and recognized principles of science,
  • programs for computers,
  • presentations of information.

Before you start filling out a patent application, you should do patentability research in the Patent Office. This step is important to avoid losing time and money on a patent that can be already found on the list of Patent Office.

Can I get International Patent Protection?

Having a domestic patent application doesn’t protect your invention outside your country. To obtain protection in a foreign country, a separate application must be submitted. In general, most foreign countries require an inventor to file a patent application before any public disclosure is made.

Trademark

Any sign capable of being represented graphically may be considered as trademark, provided that such signs are capable of distinguishing the goods of one undertaking from those of other undertakings. For example: words, designs, ornaments, combinations of colors, the three-dimensional shape of goods or of their packaging, as well as melodies or other acoustic signals.

An established trademark provides value in several ways, including distinguishing your goods or services from those of your competitors, serving as a guaranty of consistency of quality; and helping advertise and sell your products or services.

A trademark should be exclusive. It should indicate that all goods carrying that trademark come from or are sponsored by your company.

Should I register my trademark?

When you start to use mark in commerce, your rights to mark begin. Registration is not obligatory, but there are some benefits from registration in the Patent Office. If another company is using a similar mark for similar or related goods or services, the owner of a trademark registration can bring a trademark infringement lawsuit in court. Trademark protection lasts for 10 years; after that time you can renew it.

Before registration, you should do research. It is fundamental that a careful search determine whether the same or a similar trademark has previously been used on goods or with services that might have some connection with your company.

Which trademarks won’t be registered?

Rights and protection shall not be given to marks which:

  • cannot constitute a trademark,
  • are devoid of sufficient distinctive character,
  • whose use infringes third parties’ personal or economic rights,
  • are contrary to law, public order or morality,
  • may mislead the public, in particular as to the nature, properties of the goods or, to the geographic origin,
  • has been applied for protection with the Patent Office in bad faith.

Trade secrets

These are pieces of secret information about the company that provides the owner some competitive advantage. In reality, every type of information can be protected as a trade secret as long as proper steps are taken with requirements of the law to treat them as such.

What can be a trade secret?

  • marketing strategy,
  • business plan,
  • software,
  • technology,
  • projects,
  • client and Supplier lists,
  • pricing tables.

Trade secrets last until information is no longer a secret. You should retain confidentiality of trade secrets; otherwise, protection will be lost.

How can I maintain trade secret protection?

The first rule – a secret stays secret if only one person knows about it. However, in business, it’s difficult to have trade secret known by only one person, so you have to obey the rules:

  • mark all secret trade information as “CONFIDENTIAL”,
  • employees and external contractors who have contact with secret information should sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) that includes the obligation to keep company information confidential,
  • continue this NDA agreement after the employment or business relationships ends; it’s a very popular contract in startup business,
  • limit access of your employees to confidential information of company.

Conclusion

Intellectual property law is rather complex, but hard to know by startups. To retain a competitive market position; startups have to invest in intellectual property in the early stages of their grown. Startups must protect their own intellectual assets through patents, trademarks or trade secrets. These assets can add value to startup and help finding investors to grow and prosper.

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