FIVE IP lessons every startup should remember…

As an early stage business, don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you are smaller, you have nothing to protect. You do. Every business has IP (Intellectual Property): from its name, the way its products look, to the way it makes things. Understanding how IP can add value to your business and make you an attractive investment is critical, but it does not need to be complicated. Just remember these FIVE key steps:

1.    Which piece of the IP pie?

IP can be daunting but it’s much simpler when you know what IP is relevant to you. All startups have IP within them, so it is important to identify what that is before even considering how to protect it.

IP can be a trade mark (which is the legal name for your brand), a design (which protects how your products look), copyright (which protects your artistic creations including web and app content) and patents (which protect the tech stuff). IP rights are territorial and are specific to each country across the world.

If you are a jewellery business or software led business, exploring the possibility of getting patent probably won’t be relevant – but trade marks, design and copyright will be paramount. Similarly, if you invented some amazing new technology, you are going to need to pool your resources in getting a patent as one of your first IP priorities.

Think about your USP (Unique Selling Point) and what it is that makes (or will make) you money – that’s the bit that you need to protect.

2.    A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went. 

Registering IP can become expensive but is often a necessary investment in order to get your business off the ground. It is easy to get carried away with filing applications here, there and everywhere, particularly when you start to build traction and have global opportunities within reach.

The most effective IP portfolios are those that are targeted to prevent costs wastage and to ensure resources are available should any enforcement action be required along the way. To create an effective IP budget, remember these three simple rules:

–      identify what IP you need;

–      when you should protect it; and

–      where you need to protect it.

Follow these rules and you won’t go far wrong.

3.    Least said, soonest mended

We get it – you’ve got a great idea and your business is taking off. It’s stressful and exciting and you want to tell whole world about it!

Be wary – talking about your own idea could potentially scupper any ability to obtain patent protection. It also creates an opportunity for a would-be copycat to get to the market before you, putting an end to your enterprise before it has even begun.

If you do have to talk to people about your idea, you should use non-disclosure agreements, and make it clear that the discussion and any material your provide is confidential and should not be shared with anyone else.

4.    Your frenemy… social media

Social media is an excellent and free marketing tool for any early stage business and should be exploited as far as possible as it can help reach a much wider consumer base.

But be mindful of launching your business on social media before you have any IP protection in place – that wider consumer base also creates a bigger pool for potential copycats. You have worked hard to get where you are. You don’t want anyone else benefitting from your efforts and great ideas. Without registered IP, you are in a much weaker position to stop these copycats. Remember, registered rights are king.

As a small business, you also need to be aware about other people’s IP. Do some searches online and on social media to make sure you’re not stepping on anyone else’s IP toes, as this could come back to haunt you later down the line.

5.    Good order is the foundation of all things

As an early stage business, you are incredibly busy being pulled in all different directions. You may even be working full time and your start up is something you are focusing on during the evening and weekends.

As difficult as it is, don’t underestimate the power of organised, effective record taking as you never know when you might need to rely on it to protect your business. Keep up to date records of all the development work you have created, lists of people that have access to your innovation, and details of your commercial successes – all of this is relevant in protecting and enforcing your IP.

Something that is often overlooked by early stage businesses is that certain IP rights are automatically owned by the person who created them. If you get someone else involved such as a web or product designer, make sure any IP rights they own in their bit of work is transferred over to you.

So what are you waiting for? Good luck with your new venture and remember to contact Barker Brettell’s dedicated startup team. We can help identify your IP needs and work with you to develop a cost effective protection strategy.