We hear a lot about Intellectual Property but what is it, exactly? Why should we care? In which way is it important for startups? When should you start thinking about it? Throughout this article, I will try to give you some answers to these questions, since we also had to deal with them.
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Intellectual property (IP) refers to the "creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names, and images used in commerce".
IP is protected by law and allows to protect all the knowledge and effort that you placed into developing an invention. It can be a chemical formulation, a piece of software code, a method, a design, a product… There are several types of intellectual property: copyright, patent, industrial design, trademark and trade secret.
IP as a tool to generate value
The different types of intellectual property can be used not only for protection against being copied by someone else but also as a tool to generate value. This can be especially relevant for startups, mostly when there is an important part of work related to hardware, with a lot of associated investment.
Being a startup company, time and money are always two of the most limited and valuable resources. This means we have to make a bigger effort to protect those resources and transform them in as much value as possible.
For example, a patent will help you protect against your competition, and will create an asset for your company. In the end, it will have real value for investors and potential buyers, which is very important while you don’t have traction. A trade secret can be very useful, for example, when applied to code, production methods, chemical formulations... among others, in order to delay similar solutions to be copied from yours.
You know as well as me that a brand is something that takes a lot of work and time to develop, it is not only about the logo of your company or its name. A brand is everything that comes along with it: the philosophy, the marketing materials, the offices, the image of the products. That's why the industrial design protection considers not only the looks of a product but also its functionality. To reach a good industrial design there is a lot of dedication to development, design and market research.
Startup in the tech field? Start doing the paperwork
Most likely, if you're a technological startup, you will be able to apply all these types of protection. The better advice I can give you is to start as soon as possible because it will affect your process of development and some changes to the product may be required.
For example, when preparing a patent submission one of the most important parts of the work is to perform a Freedom to Operate (FOT). It will allow you to know not only if and what you can protect from your solution, but also if you are not infringing someone else’s patent and getting into a legal nightmare.
Most of the times, doing your homework (combined with a good client-focus) can end up contributing a lot to the development of your invention. And if you start at an earlier stage, you will avoid surprises, such as having to disregard or redo a vast amount of work. Something similar happens when it comes to the brand: if you don’t protect it and/or know if you can protect it in certain markets, you can be spreading the word and raising awareness... for someone else.
In the end, Intellectual Property is a good way of protection and value generation. It can have a huge impact in the development of your invention and in increasing the monetary value of a company. If you're a startup, you should consider it as soon as possible and take it seriously from the beginning. And be aware: being well advised is fundamental, since there are a lot of rules on how the several types of intellectual property can be used.
You can also find more on this topic here.