Ideas are cheap but tactical execution is not. We all live work in a fiercely competitive world and every idea, concept, or business model has to be carefully shepherded from that first drawing on a napkin to refined product marketing.
How Does and Idea Become Intellectual Property?
That first generation idea you again mapped out on a menu, tabletop or your iPad becomes “intellectual property” if its simply a design, manuscript, business name, an invention of some type and/or considered confidential information.
Shepherding your idea from a 1.0 roughed out “idea” to IP (intellectual property) occurs when you claim it as something you own legally via a formal and legal registration process, which is determined by your location and market focus (national or international).
Seven Critical Steps for Securing Your IP
If you make the decision with other founders that IP protection is worth the time and investment, there are basic rules and precepts you should be aware of to formally protect your business brand. Front end work and investment may preclude a great deal of problems later on.
Common Sense Move: Register your Idea: Leverage your network for a reference to a good patent attorney. Do front end preparation prior to the first meeting; i.e. provide the attorney with any materials you’ve created, outline where you think the business will go in a product marketing context (local, national, international focus) and maybe even a short list of competitors.
Remember: the “Loose Lips Sink Ships” Tagline: Don’t talk about what you are doing. As earlier, ideas are cheap and some with more resources can/will steal an idea or clone it in some funky manner and confuse the market, which is not a good thing.
People do strange things for love and money. Trust that does not sound too cynical. #becareful
To NDA or Not: There is not sufficient room here on Huff Po to wade into these deep waters. Many VCs or investment bankers won’s sign them nor will some subset of the population.
But, a signed NDA issued to all founders and early hires is a good idea and can save you a lot of heartache and money later.
Get Geeky with Your Idea: Grok this: “the devil is in the details” try to come up with detailed drawings, descriptions and plans even if they are funky looking and don’t forget to date them. This may be important later.
Trademarks are Always a Good Thing: Once you have a business name, logo and/or product/service name then trademark then and make sure you utilize the appropriate copyright symbols on all marketing materials, as this enhances their enforceability.
But, this can be an expensive process and time consuming: know this going in. Every point of refuge has a cost.
To Patent or Not: Filing for patents is expensive, that’s a relative term) ranging from $15-150K depending on the firm, process and complexity of your patent filing.
Invest in the Front End Research: Leverage your resources and use web based service firms like InventHelp (which has been in business for 30 plus years), the United States Patent and Trademark Office has high quality information and linked resources and Google’s Patent Search Engine can be useful for front end research.
How to Drive IP Competitive Advantage
In this post Facebook and Twitter world, patents are not as important as they once were. Both companies were “thin” on tangible patentable IP early on.
But, if your start-up starts to scale up like Uber or Tinder as an example you want to plan for success and IP assets will drive high value downstream. Assuming you have the funds, put money into formalizing your IP.
- Patents send a signal to the market that you are serious and have assets.
- NDAs are a critical component to Patent filing. But, as earlier, some “issues” in terms of who will sign and enforcement later, necessitating legal fees.
- Leverage costs by hiring a law firm out of your area: attorney fees in San Francisco or Seattle are much higher than in more remote areas.
- Get patent and trademark smart with your team: immerse yourselves in the process and details so you are knowledgeable.
- As earlier, do an asset analysis to understand what can be copyrighted or trademarked.
- You have a 12 month window when you file a patent; don’t let this time frame slip.
- Know patent protection is not global in scope: competitors in China and Europe don’t adhere to U.S. laws.
- Future proof your business by investing in strategic and tactical marketing that drives brand awareness.
I don’t think anyone (self included) can articulate a clear strategy for intellectual property best practices.
Your resources, type of company, size of team, BOD members, where you are in terms of “stage” (early or more mature) all help to define what activity and timeline you need to utilize.
But,in the vast majority of the cases, you will drive competitive advantage by leveraging intellectual property with formal filings and structure.
Keep some powder dry for tactical marketing, which is an integral part of any IP development – all of the IP development in the world will do little for you if you have no brand awareness. #goforth
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