Starting your own business is a new and exciting challenge that can be rewarding, but overwhelming. From the beginning, it’s important to consider the intellectual property associated with your business and ensure its protection and availability for use. There’s nothing worse than building a business and a brand around a name, later to find out that is already in use and has trademark protections by someone else.
Below, we’ll examine some of the basic intellectual property considerations you should be aware of at the outset of your entrepreneurial journey.
What is intellectual property?
Think of intellectual property as the outcomes of your creative process to which an individual has legal rights. Depending on the type of business you start, your creations are protected by law with the ability to patent, trademark and/or copyright your work. Doing so allows you, as the inventor, to financially prosper from your inventions.
Protecting your non-confidential intellectual property
Not all intellectual property associated with your business is confidential. For example, your logo and business name are closely associated with your brand, but are not confidential. Nevertheless, this type of property has intellectual property protection. It is worth the upfront cost of protecting this property, which is critical to your startup’s brand.
At a minimum, most businesses will invest in a logo and a domain name for their business. Before doing so, it is important to check that your name is not currently in use by another business. You can determine whether this is the case or not by running a corporate record search and registering your business name or incorporating your business.
Likewise, you can conduct an intellectual property records search to ensure that other businesses do not have a word mark or design mark that is similar to your logo.
If your logo is not confusingly similar to another mark in existence, consider trademarking your logo as a word mark and a design mark to protect it from future use by others.
Who has ownership of proprietary information?
If you’re going into business with a partner, typically no formal agreements have been put in place regarding ownership of intellectual property developed during the brainstorming process. If, say, your business partner is also employed by another employer, you run the risk of the intellectual property being owned by those individuals and in turn, their employer. To avoid this risk, it is critical that you outline who owns the intellectual property before you begin any discussions.
If your startup has employees, their employment contract should outline that any intellectual property developed during their employment belongs to you. If other members of your team are from another business, such as contract employees, make sure to outline that you own any intellectual property that the company develops on their behalf on the intellectual property agreement.
How to discuss your confidential intellectual property
So how do you discuss your business ideas safely without having to face any ownership issues down the road? In many cases, entrepreneurs discuss their business ideas with members outside of their team in order to get investments and grow their business. You want to be able to discuss these ideas without your sensitive and confidential information being compromised.
Here are a few ways you can protect yourself and your business while doing so:
- Only discuss confidential information when necessary: When discussing your startup, it is not necessary to discuss every detail. Oftentimes, when an entrepreneur is looking for partners, they reveal the finer details of their business to persuade the individual to join their team. Doing so exposes you to risk because the potential partner has insider knowledge of the business venture. Providing a general explanation of your business idea without going into too much detail is beneficial to you when discussing it with those outside of your organization.
- Use non-disclosure agreements (NDAs): An NDA is an agreement between parties to not divulge confidential information that is not in the public domain. It is a secure and reliable method to protect intellectual property between individuals and businesses, and protects the owner of such intellectual property from information leaking into public domain. If a party agrees to the conditions of an NDA, they are obligated by the NDA to not reveal the details of the confidential information to anyone. Consult with a lawyer for specific provisions to protect your intellectual property.
Intellectual property law can be complicated, but it can also make the difference between your startup’s success or failure. Being aware of these basic considerations can help you focus on growth while ensuring your property’s protection and availability for use.