Category: Intellectual Property Consulting

Protecting your intellectual property with copyrights, trademarks and patents
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It’s natural to worry about your business ideas falling into the hands of a competitor. No doubt that happens every day all around the world where businesses scoop up ideas and run with them without even the slightest thought about who thought it up in the first place.

I have seen many entrepreneurs literally obsess over the thought their ideas are either being or going to be stolen. It can easily take over your life and become the only focus of the business if you are not careful.

So the question is how does a startup balance protecting it’s idea base while at the same time rapidly moving forward towards the revenue stage. It’s a question that has baffled many and if often the very reason startups don’t become genuine producing concerns.

One thing I noticed about IP protection is that the costs are insidious as they are often very low in the beginning and then increase rapidly. Ultimately they can potentially soar into ruinous territory while you maintain, enforce and refine your protections.

Here are some notes on how to quickly and cheaply at least get started with IP protection without breaking the bank.
  1. Include protection of your IP in literally any agreement you sign. This includes agreements with contractors, freelancers, manufacturers, hires, consultants and anyone you pay money to in order to advance your business. This can take the form of Non-disclosure/Non-Compete agreements or it can be simply included as a set of clauses in other agreements.
  2. Copyrights are cheap and easy. They protect effectively anything fixed in a recorded medium. That means written works, music, software, photos and much more. Filing is not difficult and usually ~$35 to $60 or so. If done by an attorney it’s as much as ~$300.
  3. Trademarks are low cost and easy as long as you use a graphic rather than a word or phrase. Trademarking words and phrases can become expensive quick. Doing your logo can be as low as $100.
  4. Low cost patents occur and are possible but getting a cheap patent through is rare so beware. These fall into two types – design and utility.
    1. Design patents revolve around the way your product “looks”.
    2. Utility patents revolve around the way your product is used and works.
    3. Provisional patents patents are used to establish your filing date and are just $130. More on that below.
The fees to file with all the adders if you do it yourself is up to around $1,000.

My advice for a startup is to think about option number 3 – The Provisional patent.

Provisional patents are used to cheaply establish your filing date and usually costs $130. This gives you 1 year to get your business going without spending any money on the patent process. Just mark that deadline on your calendar when you use this method.

The patent type to AVOID is the famous “The Poor Man’s Patent” where you draw up your invention and mail it to yourself in sealed envelope. Why? Because in 2013 the United States altered its patent system from “first to invent” to a “first to file”. This means it does not matter if the idea can be proven to be someone else’s therefore you must file before they do.

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