Why should you care about intellectual property as a start-up? Intellectual property is your ideas, your inventions, and sometimes the creative processes that make your business unique and attract others to engage your idea. If you thought it into existence and want to use it in the world, the Federal Government is able to give you a property right to that idea or invention. There is a good reason large tech companies have entire departments devoted to collecting patents: they don’t want to waste time being dragged into court for every new line of code they write. Intellectual property rights come in the form of patents, copyrights and trademarks. Below is a list giving the legal definition and examples of each.
Word, phrase, symbol or design that identifies the source of a service rather than goods: logos, names, symbols catchphrases, mascots.
Works of literature, architectural design, software, graphic arts, motion pictures and sound recordings: books, building designs, photographs, computer games, drawings, any form of music
Any person who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent.
The invention also must have (1) some usefulness, no matter how trivial (2) be novel (3) be non-obvious to somebody who understands the technical field of the invention: apps, sporting goods, christmas lights, computer hardware, computer software, kitchen ware, make up, chemical compounds, prescription drugs.
Your interest in Intellectual Property as a business owner is all about protection and investment. You want to protect your ideas and inventions from competitors by obtaining a patent or copyright. Further, businesses often unknowingly use other entities patents in their business processes without permission, which can lead the way to patent infringement lawsuits. There are companies–coined non-practicing entities or NPEs–out there whose sole purpose is to buy patents and engage in litigation against businesses infringing on those patents. Being held hostage by NPE for patent infringement is a waste of time and money and can be prevented by having an attorney analyze your business practices and conduct a patent search. Additionally, obtaining patents can make your business more attractive to investors as having secured rights to intellectual property provides an entry barrier to competitors attempting to enter your market space.
Though intellectual property seems like a cumbersome idea and the last thing a busy start-up owner should be considering, including an IP strategy in your business plan is crucial to protecting your ideas and defending against frivolous law suits. The first step is analyzing your business for any IP rights that your business is utilizing. Once you understand the IP rights involved in your business you can search for any patents you may be infringing in addition to pursuing patents, copyrights or trademarks.