For the average startup, intellectual property will be its most valuable asset, which makes it worth protecting as comprehensively as possible.
Here is a quick guide to help fledgling firms shore up their IP defenses in the face of fairly significant threats.
Know Your Rights
The first step to protecting intellectual property is understanding that you actually have certain powers available to you by default, especially when it comes to preventing the theft of something tangible and quantifiable.
This is where copyright law comes into play, providing those responsible for creating an original work with a shield against infringement.
The work in question can be anything from your company logo and branding to software that you have developed in-house. This makes copyright law a powerful, overarching ally for startups, as well as a potential stumbling block if you later discover that your own works infringe on those of another individual or organization.
Also worth noting is that while copyright applies automatically, any conflicts which arise in the future can be resolved much more smoothly if you register eligible works as soon as possible.
Of course, copyright law issues impact multinational corporations and startups alike, so while simply knowing that the law is on your side is a good start, you need to take further steps to make sure that you can leverage this fact to your advantage.
Register A Trademark
As your startup grows, you can expect that with prominence and success will come a degree of exposure that might invite the attentions of would-be copycats looking to ride on the coattails of your ascent.
To protect the reputation of your startup, as well as the products or services it provides, a trademark can be a potent tool. On the surface, it is intended to avoid confusion between different businesses, brands and the things that represent them in the marketplace. In turn, this allows it to temper fraudulent misappropriation of IP.
To register a trademark, it is worth searching the central database which covers all existing trademarks, since of course yours cannot be the same as or even similar to that of another organization.
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Require Contractual Commitment
When startups begin hiring employees, certain aspects of intellectual property protection can get ignored during this phase in the rush to bring more talented people onboard. This can come back to bite you further down the line when your IP ends up in the hands of others, or you find that you have no claim to works created by members of staff after they leave the company.
The simplest solution is to set out in writing the terms to which you expect employees to adhere with regards to the creation, deployment, and distribution of IP. Each state has its own rules and regulations with regards to the rights of employees and employers in terms of managing IP ownership, so take this into account as well.
It is not just employees that need to commit to written agreements to protect your IP; outside contractors, consultants and anyone else who comes into contact with your startup should ideally be compelled to sign a non-disclosure agreement. While this is no certain guarantee that your IP will be protected, it does give you the means to retaliate if there is any sign that an agreement has been breached.
In all instances of attempting to protect IP, startups need to keep in mind the fact that if they do have to take a matter of infringement or outright theft to court, they will be much better off if they have evidence to support their case. This means being able to establish ownership of your IP in an infallible yet convenient and accessible way.
There are plenty of options available, including aforementioned methods like registering copyright and securing trademarks as soon as possible. That way if it is necessary to establish a timeline of IP creation to resolve a dispute, you will have the upper hand.
While copyright law and associated legislation has yet to catch up completely with the information age, such steps will at least give you the best chance of repelling an assault on your startup’s intellectual property.