Saying the word “startup” conjures up images of Silicon Valley smarty-pants rocking flip-flops and essentially living at their desks, working their tails off to IPO or drum up rounds of funding. While this picture I’ve painted might be the reality for some, in truth, startups are any new business, determinedly trying to get off the ground and obtain customers. In those whirlwind times, there’s a lot to consider, and unfortunately, intellectual property (IP) concerns can fall to the wayside—or worse, not be a concern at all. After all, most startups aren’t even sure what IP entails. Here are four startup must-haves that relate to intellectual property:
- Company Name.
So much goes into a name, especially when that name gets an “LLC” or “Corporation” tacked onto it. The first step is selecting the name. Martin Zwilling shares this advice on his blog: “Don’t pick a company name until you are certain that you can get the comparable domain name, so Internet brokers won’t hold you hostage.” As soon as you have a name in mind, trademark it, and as Antonie Johnson of this Wall Street Journal blog post recommends, consult with a trademark lawyer: “There’s no substitute for consulting with a qualified trademark lawyer before investing heavily (financially or emotionally) in a brand.” This advice is especially important because registering a corporate name with a state or obtaining a domain name doesn't necessarily mean you can use that same name in commerce, according to Johnson.
- Domain Name.
As you’re selecting your name, you’ll most certainly investigate comparable domain names. The two should match as close to perfectly as possible because, as Zwilling explains, “Significant differences will confuse your customers, and open the door to imitators and scam artists.” Here is where I’ll again emphasize the importance of trademark lawyers and thoroughly vetting potential trademarks before you commit to them. As The Richmond Times-Dispatch points out: “Merely getting incorporated under a name, getting a business license in a name, or registering a domain name does not secure your ability to use those names in business.” Also, lay claim to domains with negative twists on your company name. You most definitely don’t suck as a business. Still, you don’t want anyone else creating websites with “yourcompanynamesucks” as the domain name.
- Social Media Accounts.
Nowadays social media profiles are nearly as important as your website. When you claim your domain name, the next obvious step is to create pages on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so forth. What might not be as obvious is claiming your name on social media services you never plan to use. According to Zwilling, “Many companies like Sears, Coca-Cola, and Twitter have already been hurt by people using company names they don’t own on social sites.” Another pointer: Blogging is social media, so claim your name on popular blogging sites, too.
- Business Plans.
When it comes to your new business, your business plan is everything, or as I like to think of it, a big ol’ can of beans. The last thing you want is someone spilling those beans, especially into the wrong hands, like your competitors. Johnson at The Wall Street Journal blogexplains that trade secrets are things “that could be considered confidential or proprietary. Examples include clever ways of solving technical problems, algorithms, internal financial or operational data, and other valuable business information.” Two key points to remember: U.S. state law generally covers trade secrets and you as the company have to take great care to treat such applicable information as confidential. Thus, business plans are trade secrets. Make sure you’re taking the appropriate steps to protect it. As LA Tech Riseadvises, employ Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs): “NDAs are important, especially for people outside the company like independent contractors or consultants, which may become aware of confidential information in the course of work performed for the company.”
Those early months and years as a startup are an absolute whirlwind. That’s why it’s essential you take the measures to protect you and your business. Ultimately, if you don’t safeguard your intellectual property, your business will be hard-pressed to succeed. Not sure what other IP you have or what’s at risk? Take our free quiz to find out.