IP Guidelines for Startups: How to Protect Your Products and Designs

Protecting Start-Up IPA startup’s intellectual property (IP) can be greatly valuable in the marketplace.

Many startups focus on patenting their inventions. This is important, as a company’s product or innovation is its most valuable asset. However, this causes some new companies to ignore the value of non-patent intellectual property. This shouldn’t be the case as all types of IP can help increase a company’s value.

Without non-patent IP, it would be difficult for a product to be rolled out into the market. Some examples are copyrights, trademarks, and agreements that help protect a company’s branding or business processes.

Some startups recognize the value of all types of IP but choose to defer registering them if the startup founders think that the process is too long or too expensive. Others are interested in protecting their company’s assets but don’t know where to start.

Here are a few steps that a startup can take to protect its assets:

Build the Right Team

Most startups focus only on developing their products or systems at the beginning. This is understandable. However, some choose to defer applying for the right to protect their assets due to limited resources.

This can be solved by building the right team early on. For example, hiring an intellectual property lawyer to work alongside the company’s product designer will help a startup become more efficient in designing and rolling out its brand elements.

The designer may come up with great ideas for the product design. However, the IP lawyer can immediately check if it can be legally protected or if others already own it. The founder may also think of a perfect brand name but may not be protected in the international market.

When an IP attorney is part of the process of building a company, it becomes easier for the startup to pivot in case there are ideas that can’t be protected by law. The company can also identify if it needs to take additional steps to protect its assets.

Identify Potential Problems

Identifying potential challenges will allow a startup to better prepare for them. When a product designer works with an IP attorney, asking the right questions will save the company time and capital.

Some of the important questions that must be asked when developing a product may be related to its marketability. How does the startup plan to roll it out? Is the process scalable? The company should also be aware of whether it can pivot or change strategies if necessary.

An IP lawyer may look at the situation from a different perspective. The first question that an IP lawyer will ask may be related to the uniqueness of the product. What specific problems does it solve? Has anyone else solved these problems in a similar way? Who are the competitors in the market?

The IP attorney may also look into the processes that the startup has taken to gain funding and identify other possible sources. The brand name may also be checked to ensure that the company won’t run into any problems down the line.

Gain Legal Protection for the Product

Once all potential challenges are looked into, the company can then move forward to identify the specific types of protection needed.

The first thing that a lawyer would check is if the product or invention is patentable. Possible blocking patents will also be checked to ensure that the company has the freedom to operate.

Then, a comprehensive patent application can be drafted, which can also serve as a foundation for future continuing patent applications. This will allow the startup to pivot more easily when unforeseen problems arise, such as patents from competitors or even manufacturing challenges.

The IP lawyer will also look into the right timing to apply for all protection needed. For example, utility and design patents must first be applied before the company can disclose any of its ideas to the public, else it could lead to a potential loss of patent rights.

Also, patent applications can generally take a long time, which is why steps needs to be taken to expedite the process.

Protect All Brand Assets

After the product has been protected, brand assets should then be looked into. As the startup begins its branding process, the designers can work closely with the IP lawyer to ensure that all ideas and materials aren’t already owned by other companies.

Only then can the startup seek legal protection for the brand name and logo. This is where non-patent IP comes in. One important type of IP protection is trademarks, which will legally identify and distinguish the brand. Words, symbols, slogans, and even designs can be trademarked.

A startup should refrain from using descriptive words, geographic names, and surnames, as these cannot be trademarked. The more unique a word or symbol is, the stronger the trademark. This also helps the startup stand out in the market.

Startups should also be aware that merely registering a business name doesn’t mean that it has acquired trademark rights. This is why they should ensure that their names and logos are cleared for commercial use before launching.

An IP lawyer can conduct a comprehensive trademark search as part of the process. If the name and logo are available, then the company should immediately register them to prevent competitors from taking them.

Key Takeaways

Startups should recognize the value of all types of IP and take all necessary precautions to protect their assets. When a company works with an IP lawyer from the beginning, the right steps can be taken. Not only can the company prevent others from stealing its ideas, but it can also protect itself from unknowingly using assets that are already owned by others.

All potential problems must be looked into so the company can pivot when necessary. Products must be patented before they are rolled out. Non-patent IP should also be protected, such as brand names and logos. This will ensure that the company can legally distinguish itself in the market.

Protecting a company’s assets can be simple. What startups need is to work with the right IP lawyer throughout the process so that no problems arise after a product is launched.