When it comes to getting a startup off and running, identifying and protecting the intangible assets and other intellectual property (IP) that set you apart from the crowd is just good business.

After all, as a new business, you don’t exist in isolation – meetings with investors and potential partners, networking, and just general excited sharing of your idea with others means it’s not very likely that your grand business plan will remain a secret – nor is it prudent to your future success to keep it under wraps. But with all that chatter and sharing comes risk. Someone could steal your idea or concept, and if you haven’t taken the steps to protect your copyright and intellectual property, you’ll be up a proverbial river. Worst case scenario, you also could be accused of violating copyright or plagiarism when it comes to using your own idea or concept – that’s adding insult to injury!

With all this in mind, you’re probably wondering how to best protect your startup’s IP.  Read on for some guidance that will hopefully keep you out of a tough spot.

IP can have many forms

Forbes recommends starting with a strong foundation and the knowledge that intellectual property can take many forms, saying that “all startup founders need to think of their employees, contractors, suppliers, customers, and partners as part of their IP strategy”. Proper documentation for your contracts and agreements is of utmost importance.

Dates are important…

Be sure to keep immaculate records of creation dates of all versions of whatever it is that you’ve created. This will be important for asserting your IP rights, but will also be important if you have to defend yourself against accusations of infringement at some point.

If you created something first, be ready to prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Calendar on desk

…but timing is, too

Before you even think about branding, signage, packaging and all things visual, be sure that you actually have the rights to your product/company name, including trademarks. Registering and securing rights as soon as possible should be at the top of your list. Don’t waste your money branding a website only to find out that you have no rights to the name and someone else has beat you to the punch!

A great example here is online behemoth Pinterest. In 2010, they were brand new and had just launched in the USA, but despite global aspirations, they had failed to register their trademark in the EU. Unfortunately for them, a UK based company called Premium Interest Limited had already submitted an application to register “Pinterest” as a trademark, leading to a dispute between the two companies for use of the name in the United Kingdom.

Skip the hassle, and do your research first – then get registered.

Get it in writing

Writing agreementHandshakes and promises are never enough when it comes to IP. Agreements must be in place to protect trade secrets and confidentiality. Whether that’s code, tech, a prototype, or an idea, non-disclosure agreements (signed!) can save you a lot of trouble in the long run, particularly if you are trying to protect assets that may not qualify for patent protection.

In sum, your way of dealing with IP protection should be systematic and thorough. There’s no need to keep your ideas locked up like Fort Knox out of fear that someone is waiting in the shadows to steal your work, but doing all you can to protect your IP will take the weight off your shoulders and give you the freedom to demonstrate to all and sundry, hopefully getting it in front of the right people and leading to future success for your SME.


Read more about how we can help you with IP