This post, originally appearing February 10, 2014, on America's SBDC Biz Blog spotlights some examples of entrepreneurs ignoring their intellectual property and the intellectual property lessons learned from those mistakes. We post this as a guide to our readers, whether you are an entrepreneur, startup, or small business owner as lessons to be understood by all.
Standing on stage, Cynthia Schames, Founder & CEO of AbbeyPost, realized she needed a patent before her Women 2.0 pitch that was scheduled the next day. For many, being a pitch competition finalist is stressful enough; filing a provisional patent overnight is an unnecessary distraction. One of our mantras is that you cannot protect your intellectual property (IP) unless you know what IP you have. Unfortunately, many postpone identifying their IP and even more wait until disaster strikes.
Luckily, Cynthia’s pitch coach asked if she was prepared to answer questions from judges about how she protected her IP. AbbeyPost licenses a patented 3D body scanning technology called Find Your Fit, which accurately and quickly scans a shopper's body for specific measurements and shape. The scanning technology didn’t concern Cynthia, but rather her company’s proprietary know-how, process, and use of data to create real-time-manufactured, made-to-measure clothing. Cynthia needed protection before she pitched (and won) in a public setting. Not protecting your ideas before widely sharing the details may result in loss of international patent rights.
Domain names aren’t trademarks
Recently, a couple budding entrepreneurs explained they had multiple domain names reserved for various versions of their new product, including common misspellings of the product name. Thus, they assumed they owned the rights to market the product using the name.
After checking search engines, as well as state and federal trademark databases, they found the product name was available and the two proceeded with filing a trademark application for the correct spelling of the name. However, another company was not so lucky, sinking thousands into signage, menus, and advertising before unsuccessfully trying to register a restaurant name. Use free Google search and the TESS link on the USPTO site to look up existing trademarks before you spend money developing a brand.
It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye
I heard this saying quite a bit when I was a kid. Although usually in reference to ice-filled snowballs, lately it’s tied to technology and working without contracts. In the startup world we witness the perfect storm of non-technical people racing to implement their billion-dollar idea without a contract, which just doesn’t end well.
One extreme example was a dispute between a developer and a startup that refused to pay the developer for late work. As a result, the developer took down the companies’ live site, claiming the work was provided. But with only invoices, lawyers were needed on both sides to resolve the conflict and more was lost than necessary. All they needed was a good developer contract. Proper contracts are part of IP protection and simply good business.
Identifying your IP should always be step one to securing it. Traklight wants to help you understand what IP you have.