Four Types of IP your Startup Must protect23-05-10
While cash is king at any startup, Intellectual Property (IP) is often one of the most valuable assets for early-stage ventures, but it does not get much attention until an investor or partner initiates DD due diligence. IP ownership issues can and should be addressed at the outset by establishing proper procedures. Fixing issues after the fact is expensive.
First, there are four broad types of IP which are usually created with technology startups.
- Trade secrets (confidential information)
- Trademarks - Brand
Include the business plan, development plans, and new product or service ideas. Generally, thoughts or items like price or customer lists cannot be owned by a company but maintaining processes to keep trade secrets confidential is helpful and can protect a startup.
- Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs); help with safeguarding confidential information.
- Reasonable precautions and procedures should be put in place to protect such confidential information (trade secrets) and treated with a level of care and respect commensurate with its value to your venture.
Inventions are usually protected through Patents and give the patent owner the right to prevent others from using or commercially benefiting from the creation during the term of protection. Inventions are more than ideas for new products. They should be new (novel) useful, and not obvious. Rights to an invention are automatically provided to the individual inventor unless a company has a written agreement in place with the inventor stating that any inventions developed will be owned by the company, and therefore any right related to the patent is assigned to the company.
Works of Authorship include software code, website content, and marketing materials, which are usually protected when published and are automatically granted to the author. So a startup should have agreements in place to make sure that the work created by an employee within the scope of his or her duties ensures the company is deemed the “author” of the work from the outset.
Things can get even more complicated when using open-source code, or even recycling code from older projects. Therefore, you as entrepreneurs must do your best to make sure to separate between pre-existing or third-party content and owned and developed content.
Brand or Trademark:
Your brand or trademark is how your customers know your company and your products or services, whether it is through your domain name, social media handles, the music you created and played that is associated with you, or your colors. Brands are protected by trademark law and are among the most valuable assets of a new venture. Unlike other forms of IP trademark rights are automatically for the company once developed and used and do not have to be assigned. Entrepreneurs need to pay attention to what the trademark is.
- DISTINCTIVE enough that you can be its exclusive owner,
- UNIQUE nobody else is already using anything confusingly similar.
- CONTROLLED be sure the company owns and controls all the domain names and social media accounts
Read our Blog about how to create a strong trademark.
Ownership of Intellectual property is a valuable asset for a new venture. We suggest you start clean put the strategy, and procedures in place early on, and use all the agreements you can get that protect your IP, including NDAs, founder agreements, services agreements, and the like, which can help you avoid expensive complications down the line.
After you have the basics set start your protection path and we are here to help.