Most start-ups have very little in the way of physical assets. It isn’t uncommon for a start-up to be nothing more than a few tools or computers in an unused room or a garage.
Despite this lack of physical assets, start-ups aren’t without value. Most start-ups potentially have thousands, if not millions, of dollars worth of intellectual property (IP).
What is IP?
IP represents the unique ideas of a business. Some IP, like logo designs, can be easily identified. Other IP, like computer code and business processes, are more difficult to identify uniquely. Regardless, all forms of IP can be protected through several established methods.
How to Protect IP
Methods of protecting IP are almost as old as the United States itself. The patent office is almost 200 years old and exists specifically to ensure that inventors can benefit financially from their ideas. But patents aren’t the only option for defending IP. IP can be defended with:
- Private contracts
- Non-disclosure agreements
- Trade secret laws
The world’s biggest companies all use these methods to protect their IP. But these tools aren’t limited to big companies. Any business of any size can protect its IP.
The Earlier You Protect Your IP, the Better
Start-ups should take steps to protect their IP as soon as possible. Patents, trademarks, and copyrights are all time-sensitive. If another party copies your IP before you have protected it, you might not be able to prevent them from using it.
Even worse, that party might be able to claim the IP before you can, potentially preventing you from benefiting from the IP that you created.
When to Get a Business Lawyer Involved
Just as you should protect your IP from the moment you create your start-up, you should create your start-up by consulting with a business lawyer. A business lawyer will ensure your start-up follows all applicable business laws from the very beginning.
Your lawyer will help you protect your start-up’s IP. Most people don’t understand the differences between patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Your lawyer understands these differences and will ensure you get all of the appropriate applications in on time.
And if somebody infringes on your IP, your lawyer has the tools to stop that infringement as quickly as possible. Whether that ends with a cease-and-desist order, you receiving proceeds from the use of your IP, or a full-blown trial, the earlier your lawyer can act, the more likely you are to see good results.
Why Protecting Your IP Matters So Much
As previously discussed, regardless of the value of your company’s physical assets, your intellectual property has value. It has so much value that you can sell it if you want. But you can only sell it if you have ensured that your start-up has exclusive access to it.
Many start-ups don’t last for more than a few years. But that doesn’t always mean that they failed. Many that disappear have IP so desirable that a larger company purchases the start-up — or its IP — for millions of dollars. If you want to have a chance to make that kind of money, you need to protect your IP from day one.
Diligent Protection Is Required
Simply filing for a patent, copyright, or trademark isn’t enough. If another party infringes on your IP, you have to defend it zealously. You could lose your patent, trademark, or copyright if you fail to act after becoming aware of infringing activity.