Intellectual property considerations for startups at every stage
If you’re building a technology-based business without an intellectual property strategy, you may want to consider the implications it could have. Should you find yourself facing an intellectual property dilemma, your company’s bottom line could be impacted, or worse, you could be forced to shut down.
For tech startups, a strong intellectual property strategy can help attract investment that is critical to the company’s growth. Investors want to see that you not only have investment-worthy intellectual property, they also want to know that you have a plan to protect it.
At any stage of business, there are a number of intellectual property-related considerations founders should keep in mind. From trademarks to patents, it can be tough to know where you should invest your time and money when it comes to protecting your intellectual property. Here are a few factors to consider when developing an intellectual property strategy that grows with your business:
It’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs to discover an idea while working for someone else – after all, industry experience is often a key ingredient in what makes a successful founder. However, it’s important to ensure your full-time job is completely separate from the effort you put into your idea.
Financially speaking, it may seem like a good idea to work on your idea while being employed. You need to pay the bills, and at this point, you’re probably still unsure of whether the idea is even feasible. But, working on your idea while still employed can lead to costly disputes over who owns your intellectual property.
Review your employment contract so you have a full understanding of your employers rights over the intellectual property that you develop while working for them. It is imperative that you only work on your idea outside of working hours using personal resources, such as your own laptop or computer, for example.
If you’re at the idea stage, your intellectual property strategy should also focus on evaluating your idea and the intellectual property that may be involved in developing your company. This understanding will be instrumental in making sound decisions about protecting your intellectual property. You will also want to ensure that the company name and brand you’re using hasn’t already been trademarked.
Now that your business is gaining momentum and your hiring team members to help build your product, it’s critical that you have proper employment agreements in place with your early employees.
Ensure that all employment contracts include a clause that indicates any intellectual property created by your employees is owned by the company. It’s also a good idea to make sure all founders sign an intellectual property agreement that transfers ownership of any intellectual property created prior to the business’s incorporation to the company in order to avoid any potential conflicts in the future.
Depending on the product or technology you’re developing, you may want to begin exploring whether patents are particularly applicable to your company. Patenting a product does require time and money, but it may be worth investigating the process if you’re developing a proprietary technology. You can find more information about the patent process by visiting the Government of Canada’s website or reaching out to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.
As your business grows, so too should your efforts to identify and protect your intellectual property. Founders and their teams should continuously improve their efforts to create and retain intellectual property to boost the company’s competitiveness. Having a strong intellectual property strategy at this stage of business can also help you attract additional rounds of investment or a potential buyer for your company.
You may also want to consider how your intellectual property strategy and corporate culture align, as this may impact your leadership’s ability to prioritize long-term intellectual property investments with the short-term budget constraints that may exist.
Developing a strategy around your company’s intellectual property can help you mitigate risks, leverage opportunities for growth and reach operational goals. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s never too early to create a plan for your intellectual property.
Idea and early stage companies may struggle to see the value of investing resources into an intellectual property strategy; however, focusing on intellectual property early on can save you from serious problems in the future. If you’re interested in learning about intellectual property, join us on Wednesday, February 5 for a Lunch + Learn on steps to patent your invention with Dr. Cecilia Basic from the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.