Be smart about your intellectual property
Are you thinking about starting your own business? In that case you should also think about how to protect your products and services. After all, your creations and innovations are too important to be lightly dealt with. Moreover; they can cost your company a lot of money if they are not handled thoughtfully. This guide is meant to give you some information about the intellectual property (IP) of starters.
- What is intellectual property?
- Why is IP important for starting companies?
- When is the best moment to start with IP?
- Can I also protect an idea?
- Can I protect the name of my company?
- Can I also protect the domain name of my website?
- Am I always the owner of the IP rights when I make use of the services of a communication agency for coming up with the name, the logo, or the website?
- Do I need a patent when I invent something?
- Can I also protect a procedure or knowhow?
- How can I make sure that nobody steals my idea when I collaborate with another company?
Step 1/10 What is intellectual property?
Let's start with a definition: intellectual property (IP) is the collective name for rights on developed ideas and creative concepts, such as designs, inventions, music, brands, software, games, texts and photographs. Intellectual property rights do not grant you the ownership of purely material things (tangible objects like a computer, a car,...) but they grant ownership on developed ideas and concepts.
Step 2/10 Why is IP important for starting companies?
The answer is simple: a good start is half the battle. First of all it allows you to protect what is yours. It prevents others from copying your products. A protected product also provides you with extra leverage during your search for partners or investors.
It is also very important not to infringe the rights of others. Therefore, check carefully whether the name or the product you are working on is not already protected in some way. After all, it would be a waste of time and money to develop a product that somebody else has already come up with.
Step 3/10 When is the best moment to start with IP?
Generally speaking it is recommended to think about it continuously. On the one hand when you start, as you would definitely like to know how you can protect your new product. On the other hand you should never lose sight of new developments, and it is a very good practice to regularly check for possible infringements.
Step 4/10 Can I also protect an idea?
An idea is an abstract concept, and hence not tangible. Therefore it cannot be officially protected, for example by means of a copyright or a patent. What you can do, however, is deposit your idea in the form of an i-DEPOT that links your idea to a time stamp. Make no mistake: the only thing this proves is that you may have been the first one to have come up with the idea. It is only when you start working out your idea practically that it can be protected legally.
Step 5/10 Can I protect the name of my company?
Yes, of course, and a good thing too. It is not easy to come up or create a name. You write, you delete again, you draw up lists. It is a lengthy process of trial and error. And then, when you finally have decided on a name, you don't want your competitor to be able to use the same name tomorrow. Last but not least you have to check if the name you have chosen doesn’t already exist, so you are sure you can use it without infringing others.
Have you chosen a name? You yourself can then carry out a first check. This Guide gives you step-by-step information to do so.
Step 6/10 Can I also protect the domain name of my website?
Of course, and the information to do so can also be found in this smart guide.
Step 7/10 Am I always the owner of the IP rights when I make use of the services of a communication agency for coming up with the name, the logo, or the website?
No. The IP rights automatically end up with the communication agency. This because it is the agency who thought of the name, the logo, or the website. Therefore, it is necessary to stipulate in writing that the agency should transfer these rights at the end of their contract with you. For example at the moment you pay the final invoice.
Step 8/10 Do I need a patent when I invent something?
Not necessarily. First of all, you should determine if your product is patentable. The product needs to propose a new technical solution for an existing problem, and it also needs to be industrially applicable.
In addition you should give the matter a great deal of thought as to why you would like to apply for a patent. Do you want to protect your invention against counterfeiters or is the aim to attract investors? A patented product can give you more leverage during the negotiations with possible investors and partners.
Finally, the costs of the whole procedure should also be taken into account. An expert responsible for the application doesn’t come cheap. On top of that, the costs go up if you want to apply for a patent in multiple countries.
You can also choose not to apply for a patent. This can be a valid choice for your specific situation, and even then there still are a number of options. You can for example decide to keep your knowledge secret, or you can simply place your product in the public domain, in such a way that others will not be able to get a patent either. Another possibility is that certain aspects are already covered by other IP rights, and this can be sufficient in certain cases.
A badly written patent application can cost you a lot of money. A patent describes your invention to the slightest detail. If you miss a detail, you give others the opportunity to copy your product. On the other hand, giving too much detail can limit the scope of your patent. A patent application is therefore better written by an expert (patent attorney).
Step 9/10 Can I also protect a procedure or knowhow?
Yes, the Guide into trade secrets explains this step by step.
Step 10/10 How can I make sure that nobody steals my idea when I collaborate with another company?
A finished and protected product normally doesn’t pose any problem. Are you working together in the concept phase? Then it is wise to make sound agreements as to what to share and what not to share. It might be a good idea to deposit your idea in the form of an i-DEPOT and to draw up an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). Here you can find how to draw up such an agreement.