Although there are literally a thousand things for a new startup to consider, intellectual property (IP) protection should be high on the list.
The protection of intellectual property for a startup can decrease competition, help defend against infringement claims, and help a startup stop the theft of its innovations by bigger companies. In addition, intellectual property can also be attractive to potential investors and funding partners.
As a startup, you should discuss your intellectual property strategy with an experienced intellectual property attorney. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you develop your strategy with that legal specialist:
To protect your intellectual property, it’s critical that you file for a patent early. In patent protection, the time to file is limited. For that reason, patents should be considered early in development. In the U.S., an inventor has a one-year “grace period” from first publicizing an invention to filing for patent protection. After that, it’s too late. However, your IP attorney will advise to not delay.
The U.S. patent system moved from a first-to-invent to a first-inventor-to-file process in 2011. That change may result in disappointment for a startup that waits to seek patent protection. With the old first-to-invent system, one could be the first to conceive of an invention and obtain patent rights over an earlier filer by proving that he or she conceived of the idea first and continued to diligently work on the invention. But now, it’s a race to the patent office, and the winner is the person who gets there first—not necessarily the one who originally had the idea for the invention.
The one-year grace period to file a patent application isn’t the norm outside of the U.S. As a result, you and your attorney need to be savvy in seeking patent protection abroad. You’ll need to seek patent protection in each country you target because individual countries issue patents. There’s no “international patent.”
If you publicize your invention in the U.S. before filing a patent application, you may jeopardize your foreign intellectual property rights. It’s best to develop a complete strategy quietly with your IP attorney, then put all the plans in motion in concert.
Stay on Top of Your Patents
Revisit filing as your invention evolves. Your IP attorney will tell you that you may be under-protecting or affording that latest iteration of your product no patent coverage. There may be an opportunity to patent a new feature to further protect your invention.
Startups are known to move quickly and with agility. This may mean that after a patent is issued, the product develops into something well beyond what was covered in the original patent application.
Reevaluate patent protection on a regular basis with your attorney. You can also file a provisional patent application or a series of provisional patent applications within a year before filing a utility patent application.
Don’t Watch the Mailbox
Another piece of advice: don’t sit around waiting for your patent to issue!
It can take over two years for a patent to be granted by the U.S. Patent Office, so don’t wait to move forward and commercialize your invention. Apply for your patent and get moving. This will help keep your startup company focused forward in developing ideas and new products. This also helps to build your brand, credibility, and reputation—not to mention revenue.
Depending on the type of business and industry in which your startup will be operating, you should consider copyright and trade secret protection as a component of your intellectual property strategy. Speak with an experienced intellectual property legal professional as you work to build your startup, to discuss the types of intellectual property protection you may need.
Attorney Michael Ahmadshahi focuses on patents, intellectual property, copyright, and trade secrets in Irvine, California. The Michael Ahmadshahi, PhD, Law Offices are also located in Beverly Hills and Sherman Oaks. Call us at (949) 556-8800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us help you with your intellectual property questions and the IP strategy for your startup.