Imagine working hard to launch your company. You build your product, implement a go-to-market strategy, make a logo, hired employees, finalize investors, and more. Many entrepreneurs I have worked with got to this point to discover:
- You are now being sued for infringing upon someone else’s Intellectual Property (IP) Rights.
- Because they build their product with Open-Source Code, they cannot commercialize their product.
- Employees you hired are now using your materials to build competing companies.
- You are now being sued by former employers of your employees because they used their Intellectual Property to advance your business.
- Investors are unwilling to finalize a deal because you do not have adequate Intellectual Property Protection in place for your company.
Problems like this impact too many founders. Fortunately, these problems are preventable and manageable with the development of a sound Intellectual Property Strategy.
As an entrepreneur, you are launching a business experiment. Your business’s value comes from the way you leverage market-driven insights to generate products, services, and strategies to meet market demand. These things are your IP. How you plan to protect these things is an IP Strategy.
An Intellectual Property Strategy is a necessary risk management component of your business plan. For example, without having a strategy to ensure you can legally sell your product and protect your brand, your Branding, Marketing, and Sales strategies are in jeopardy. As a second example, a product development strategy is at risk of failure without a plan that legally protects the underlying product. Finally, you want a system that allows you to leverage your team without infringing on others’ IP rights and worrying about team members taking your IP from you.
So what should you consider when forming an IP Strategy?
Below are a few things you should think about:
- First, is there a sufficient amount of validation to justify creating a product or a business? The fact is, there is no need to develop and protect Intellectual Property that there is no market for.
- Be clear about your long-term product development and business goals. All strategies should be designed with the end goals in mind.
- What is core to your business, and what is your real competitive advantage? If you are building a product that there is indeed a market for, then you have competitors. You need to be clear about your core value, how you provide and communicate that value, how, where, and why it differs significantly from your competitors. Your IP Strategy should not be focused on protecting every little thing your business does. It should be focused on protecting your core value and competitive advantages.
- Understanding what IP Claims others have. Before you start developing products, code, and logos, conduct some research to see if someone has legal protections around items similar to that you are trying to build. Additionally, as you think about other resources you may use for your business, make sure you understand what rules and stipulations come around use and how it impacts what you can and cannot do with your materials.
- Have a basic understanding of the different ways to protect Intellectual Property. Below are a few ways Intellectual Property Can Be Protected:
- Patents: These provide one with the right to decide if and how an invention can be used by others. In return, the patent owner makes technical information about the invention publicly available.
- Copyright: These protect forms of literary and artistic expression. These forms of expression can include computer programs, databases, and technical drawings. The catch is they protect the way something is expressed, not the underlying idea being expressed.
- Trademark: These marks exist to protect a company’s brand by providing a sign that distinguishes one company’s goods and services from that of another.
- Trade Secrets: These policies exist to protect sensitive information that is valuable to a business and has economic value to others who cannot legitimately obtain this information.
- Contracts and Other Internal Policies: Some examples include:
- Making sure you retain ownership of IP when engaging contractors.
- Putting protections in place in the event a contractor infringes upon someone’s IP rights limitations.
- Having HR policies and agreements that guard against the infringement on IP rights associated with employee conduct.
Finally, do not try to develop an IP Strategy on your own. Intellectual Property is a complex field requiring many years of practice and study to understand. Given the significance of Intellectual Property Strategy to your business, you cannot afford to get it wrong. Fortunately, JumpStart and its partners have programs and resources to provide you with assistance, often at no cost to you.