Intellectual Property Rights for Entrepreneurs

Q: What precautions do startups need to take to protect their intellectual property?

As an entrepreneur, you may be unclear on how and when to file to protect your ideas and designs. This information is intended to help you get started.

Q: What is considered intellectual property and how is it protected?

Intangible assets created by your company may fall under the category of intellectual property. There are three legal means to protect this property: trademarks, copyrights, and patents.

Trademarks distinguish your business from others and can include logos, slogans, taglines, and packaging. They are usually specific only to your field or business industry.

Copyrights cover creative literary and artistic work such as written papers, research, photographs, and music. You can also copyright technical drawings and database contents.

Patents are for inventions, such as new product designs. This includes not only physical devices, but also processes, such as business systems.

The best way to handle proprietary software is somewhat ambiguous. Either a patent or copyright can be applicable, depending on a number of factors, including software complexity. Not all software developments will be eligible for a patent, and if this is the case you should apply for copyright. Contact an intellectual property attorney if you are uncertain as to which is the best solution for your business.

Q: I want to be sure I’m not infringing on existing IP. How do I know if another company has a patent pending on a design my company develops?

The United States Patent and Trademark Office recommends a seven-step strategy that checks for existing patents. Their website also includes a tutorial to help you navigate patent classifications.

Q: My finances are limited. How much does IP protection cost, and is it worth the expense?

The price will vary depending on the scope of coverage you obtain. Trademarks are the least expensive of the three forms of intellectual property protection. Copyrights are less expensive and take less time to obtain than patents, but you should be sure you’re getting the protection you need.

Startup should consider that patents have a low ROI, however if you are seeking funding, investors regard patent(s) pending as a valuable asset.

Q: If I have an international company, does this affect IP filing?

Depending on the property you’re protecting and where you do business outside of the US, you may have to make additional filings. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) can provide assistance and help streamline your international protection needs.

Trademark applications can be filed in each country in which you do business, or you can apply using the international Madrid System.

Copyright laws vary by country. However, the WIPO recognizes the Berne Convention Treaty as a means to provide global copyright protection.

Patents are limited by region. For international requirements, the Patent Cooperation Treaty facilitates the patent process across 148 countries.

Q: What are the advantages of retaining IP Counsel to develop an IP strategy?

According to Lawrence Brown, VP Legal at JW Michaels, with intellectual property in the C-Suite spotlight, hiring the right IP attorney has become a focus for clients. As businesses turn to IP for corporate value and competitive business advantages, legal departments are being pushed to provide more than just solid knowledge of the law. To find the right person, clients are looking past the resume and using the interview process to really understand how candidates think about risk and business enablement. It’s crucial to find talented attorneys who can say no when required, but can also turn to the business to say "yes, here’s how."

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