Protecting your intellectual property is not compulsory, but it is worth consideration. Just as having a burglar alarm on your home is not required by law, it is a choice many homeowners make for peace of mind.
As well as protecting your IP against infringement, doing so can add financial value to your company, particularly if you are considering selling. Protected IP rights can be used to facilitate licensing revenue, as security for borrowing and for marketing purposes. The latter I find the most valuable, as for a startup, it can give confidence to purchasers that your product is good, by the credibility a patent, for example, can provide.
Many startups involved with computer-implemented inventions have experienced rapid commercial growth, because software products are easy to multiply and distribute to customers. Skype is one example of an early development of Voice-Over-Internet- Protocol (VoIP) software that in 2002 was downloadable without cost to users; revenues were made by Skype for peripheral services associated with VoIP.
Within 18 months of making the software product available, Skype had 300 million users worldwide and had become a billion-dollar corporation.
Startups with inventions, often face a dilemma regarding whether to protect their inventions with IP rights, such as patents, or simply launch their products without IP protection, expecting a short product lifetime before competitors then develop competing products, that offer a similar degree of functionality.
From my experience, the preparation and submission of patent applications, especially for computer implemented inventions, is tactically prudent because it forces inventors to highlight what distinguishes their products. Such special and unique attributes will be appreciated by investors as factors that can potentially contribute to added commercial value; in their absence, the inventor risks becoming a me-too business, that potentially competes with similar companies.
Their only advantage may be a more efficient business model or more effective marketing to potential customers. In such scenarios, a commercial advantage derives from how a business is organised, not necessarily from its innovative technologies and associated patents.
If you have invented something that is unique or cutting edge, you should be the one to reap the benefits and not allow ‘free riders’ to copy you, perhaps even beat you, simply because they had a little more money to market the solution. The following tips may help you to effectively manage your valuable intellectual assets.
Protect your creations as intellectual property (IP)
Property rights, for example trademarks, patents, and designs, as well as copyright, provide the best protection against any possible misuse. Some of these can be expensive, especially patents should you need worldwide coverage, but copyright can be straight forward and can cover areas such as screen layout. Some of you will remember the battle between Apple and Microsoft when Windows came out!
Protect your IP at an early stage
This will prevent competitors from registering your ideas as their intellectual property, thereby, limiting your scope for doing business. I also advise protecting your data from theft either physical or cyber. Ensure that all your PCs are encrypted, your network is secure and tested regularly and you have robust back-ups of data held in secure repositories. Competitors will be monitoring your social media output so don’t shout about your ideas too loudly, until you have protected everything.
Ensure your product or service does not infringe others’ IP
In this way you can avoid receiving a formal warning, or your product being taken off the market and having to pay damages. Not a good beginning for a startup.
Use publicly accessible information to your advantage
Carrying out searches in trademark and patent databases such as this UK Government tool can inspire you, or help you, to determine the novelty of your invention or, to monitor the competition.
Turn your IP into cash
You can sell trademarks, patents, designs and copyright, or give permission to others to use them, in exchange for a licence fee. And you never know, a ‘big player’ might just buy you for your patent.
If you have spent time and money developing an idea or, even if it was a lucky break, I believe you should protect it. It will help you in the long run and certainly adds value to your offering. However, doing this is hard on top of running a business and developing your idea and, sadly, there is no simple way of avoiding this.
I always suggest de-coupling the inventor from the business process where possible, as this allows the inventor to focus on making the product outstanding, leaving the paperwork to others.