7 Things Every Entrepreneur Should Do to Protect Your Startup’s IP

“For a new venture […] an intellectual property portfolio may be the venture’s only major asset.” (Vern Francissen of law firm Lane Powell)

You have an amazing startup idea and work is underway. Positive response from early adopters; you’re building a great team; things are looking good…

But don’t overlook one key part to your startup strategy: protecting your intellectual property. Here are seven pointers to doing IP right, from the start:

1.       Get creative to strengthen your trademark:

“Choosing a strong trademark can help avoid many problems in the future.  The usual suspects may not be the best: surnames, geographical indicators, and generic or descriptive names all help readily convey what it is you are selling, but they also carry the downside of leaving you exposed to copycats.  What business owners and entrepreneurs ought to strive for is a name that will imprint itself in the minds of your customers and grow to become synonymous with your business.” (Rupen Fofaria at Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog)

2.       Don’t be a copycat:

“[I]t’s wise to spend a little up front on proper trademark clearance to insure that there is no one else using the same or a similar name for a similar product or service. If you get too far down the road, it could be disastrous if you end up having to re-brand, destroy all of your merchandise, and invest in all-new marketing materials, or worse — defend your business from a trademark infringement claim. The cost to properly clear a trademark is far less than the cost of a lawsuit.” (Linda Norcross at Lewis Roca Rothgerber)

3.       Patent products and services to preserve your competitive advantage:

“The significance of a patent portfolio is generally clear for technology-based companies. However, seemingly nontech firms may have technology that should be protected as well. A packaging company could have innovative processes for packing or superior container technology. A food company might develop valuable approaches to safety and regulatory compliance. A distributor may come up with a more efficient routing and tracking system.” (Vern Francissen at Lane Powell)

4.       Don’t let your secrets walk out the door:

“Non-disclosure agreements are designed to impose confidentiality obligations on one or more parties to a transaction.  Confidential or ‘trade secret’ information may be disclosed during early-stage negotiations, even before a formal contractual relationship is concluded.  Or it may be disclosed in the course of an ongoing contract: for example, a licensing or manufacturing agreement.” (Richard Stobbe at Field Law)

5.       Lock down mobile devices to thwart hackers and thieves:

“No longer does a would-be thief need to break into the company vault to steal the secret formula. Instead, if that formula was contained on a company-controlled server, but then accessed remotely and stored onto an outside cloud network, the thief would simply need to access the cloud—a significantly less-protected storage space. This example illustrates why it is important to ensure that policies reflect the current state of technology, since trade secret thieves are generally more tech-savvy than an average business.” (Kevin Jackson at Snell & Wilmer)

6.       Express yourself – then protect that, too:

“Any original artistic or literary work that is written or recorded automatically gets federal copyright protection.  […] Copyrights provide the owner with the exclusive rights to copy; distribute/sell; display; modify or create derivative works; perform; and in the case of sound recordings, to perform publicly by digital audio transmission. If your business is dependent on original works, you should register them and actively stop people from improper copying.” (Donna Ray Berkelhammer at Sands Anderson)

7.       Fight for your (IP) rights:

“Companies also need to be watching and monitoring what other people are doing to make sure that their intellectual property is not being infringed upon. This can be something very extreme, such as a counterfeiter who has posted a fake Facebook page or a fake Twitter feed to try to get people to buy counterfeit goods, or something less extreme, such as someone using a mark that is similar to your company’s or a fan site that is talking about your company and your products.” (Jennifer Barry at Latham & Watkins)

The updates:

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