Starting a business is a complicated process, and with any difficult and time-consuming effort, it is inevitable that a mistake or oversight can happen despite the best intentions. The long hours can leave you frazzled, and there simply aren't enough hours in the day to attend to every detail that you'd like.
Intellectual property mistakes are common enough given how other matters seem to draw greater attention, but the cost associated should be enough to bring IP matters front of mind to any entrepreneur. Failing to protect your IP, or accidentally infringing upon someone else's, is enough to derail a promising venture before it has a chance to get off the ground. If you're looking to avoid these costly mistakes, here are three tips that can help keep you from an IP blinder.
Do your homework before you get started.
One of the first mistakes any startup can make is to not do research on their idea to understand what similar companies or products exist, or on existing registered IP related to their own creation. Many don’t even establish any sort of IP strategy to address any issues that may arise, hoping that they never have to worry about it. Unfortunately, ignorance isn’t an excuse.
It is crucial to research existing IP to make sure your company doesn't infringe on someone else's copyrights, trademarks, and patents. Thorough research will also allow you to understand what ideas are legally yours and can be protected. Clearly defining what your company owns and what belongs to another person or entity will help you accurately assess the value of your business venture.
You can ease this process by seeking help from an IP expert in researching the field before you launch your business. While it may cost a bit more than the do-it-yourself approach, it’s a relatively small investment to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that the idea at the heart of your business actually belongs to you.
Understand your IP and how to protect it.
Failing to understand the difference between trademarks, patents, copyrights and trade secrets is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when trying to protect your IP. Using the wrong type of protection could ultimately lead to your IP lacking the needed protection to prevent against its use by competitors, without any means to combat it.
Trademarks should be used to protect logos, brand names, slogans, and other ideas related to your branding strategy. Copyrights are used to protect original works from being reproduced and distributed without your consent. Patents grant you property rights on an idea or a product, which means a patented innovation cannot be used by anyone else. And trade secrets are intangible assets like customer lists that would be valuable to your competitors but can't be filed for protection for obvious reasons.
Entrepreneurs may feel that they need to have all the answers, but it's OK to ask for help when needed in areas outside your expertise. Rather than guessing, talk to a professional who can help you from making any irreversible mistakes.
Create a long-term IP strategy.
Identifying and protecting your IP and avoiding infringing upon the IP of others during the early stages of your business is a vital step in developing your business. But you IP concerns aren't done there. IP concerns are an ongoing concern of any business, and a long term IP strategy is necessary in accounting for new ideas and creations that your business develops as it grows.
Having legal resources readily available can be invaluable to developing businesses. Many businesses avail themselves of either an in-house, full-time IP specialist or the services of a law firm specializing in IP. Your IP specialist or law firm will act as your counselor when any issue regarding IP arises. This will help you avoid costly mistakes and protect all your innovations. In the long-term, the right IP protection strategy will boost the value of your business since you will legally own all your ideas (something that investors look for when deciding whether or not to risk their money with your business) and will also prevent other businesses from copying your brand.
Having your IP on firm ground isn't a guarantee for success, but not taking the time to understand and protect your IP and the IP of others in your field is a sure way to find yourself on a fast track to failure.