Every business will own some sort of intellectual property, often being one of its most valuable assets. It could be anything from the product, service, designs, creative branding or know-how.
There are different ways in which you can protect your work and secrets, these are primarily through patents, copyrights, and trademarks.
Are patents the best option for startups?
A patent effectively gives the inventor a monopoly over their invention for up to 20 years (renewals every year after the first 5 year period) provided that it is in use. They are the most concrete form of protection but are also the most difficult and expensive to get.
In order for an invention to qualify for patent protection, it must be new, involve an innovative step (cannot be simply a change or make a minor modification, it must be a material change), and be something that can be made or used. It must also not be available to the public prior to patenting.
For many startups a patent is crucial for long-term profitability, and therefore, survival in the marketplace. It can help with driving investment, provide protection during partnerships and business deals, and help defend itself against patent lawsuits by others too.
That’s why entrepreneurs often believe that securing a patent is a prerequisite to launching their businesses. However, this is not really the case.
Here are some aspects to consider for deciding if a patent is the best option for your business:
- Patents take time
In a fast-moving business environment, with major pivots and new features implemented on a regular basis, a lot can happen from when you first file to when you receive your patent (it usually takes about 5 years for a patent to be granted).
Paul Graham, venture capitalist and co-founder of Y Combinator, notes that anywhere from 70–100% of new start-ups have a different core idea at the heart of their business by the end of the first 3 months of operation.
A patent is worth it for the appropriate cases so if you’re sure about it we recommend to get in early, choose the best kind of patent for your needs and keep the patent updated to keep yourself protected without wasting time and money.
- There’s no guarantee that merely going through the patent filing process means that you will ultimately be granted your patent
Filing for a patent is really complex and it can be difficult to meet the requirements needed (only about 1 in 20 applications are successful). On an early stage, if a patent is not crucial, you should spend your cash and time on other things that will allow your business to grow and become profitable.
- A patent protects inventions
The majority of the most successful startups today are based not on inventions that introduced something brand new into the world but rather on products that respond to a monetizable consumer pain or problem.
An example of this is when big companies such as Google or Apple didn’t file for a patent in their early stages as there were more than a dozen existing search engines before Google came along or there were PDAs before the iPhone emerged.
- A patent is not the only existing way to protecting you IP
These are other types of IP protection:
– Trademarks: You can trademark company names, products, services, taglines, slogans, and so on, for as long as your company uses them.
– Registered design right: It is possible to register the look of a product you’ve designed to stop people from copying or stealing it.
– Copyright: It is the exclusive right given to the creator of a creative work, to reproduce the work, usually for a limited time.
Additionally, your IP has to be protected through contracts. All your employment and consultancy contracts should clearly state your ownership of any intellectual property developed for you and you should require anyone you seek advice from to sign an NDA.
Make sure you do the appropriate research before making a decision as to whether a patent is the best option for your business. Once you’ve done this you should make sure you get the right legal advice.
If you need legal support to protect your brand, get in touch with our legal team.