Easy intellectual property tips for startups by Reggster
easy intellectual property tips for startups
Intellectual property issues may seem difficult and distant for a young startup. Here are 3 simple pointers to get you in the right direction. You can read more tips and info from the Reggster website.
1. Make sure your company owns the IP from the start
When you finally start your company, it is possible that you have already generated a lot of valuable assets. This is particularly the case with software companies. Once the company is established, copyright to the software generated by the employees will belong to the company. However, software that is generated by the founders before the company is formed does not belong to the company, unless it is explicitly transferred from the owners to the company.
Also, make sure that in all employment and service contracts there is a standard clause transferring the intellectual property generated by the employees or contractors to your company. Copyright to the software automatically belongs to the company when it is created by an employee, but not if it is generated by another company (for example a software company). Also, other types of copyright (e.g. for logos and marketing materials) do not automatically belong to the employer.
You may remember WeWork’s cancelled IPO. Among other issues, it was found that their trademarks were owned by the founders and not the company itself. When the founders sold the trademarks to the company for 5.9 M USD, there was a massive backlash. Ultimately, the whole IPO was cancelled and the company went from a valuation of nearly 50 Bn USD to the brink of collapse.
Problems or discrepancies in the ownership of the IP can be fatal to obtaining external funding.
2. Get the brand right
For most companies, big and small, a brand is their most enduring and valuable asset. Their brand is their commercial identity, so it is important to get it right. The core of the brand is the company’s trademark, i.e. the name of their product or service (such as Polar Bear Pitching or Reggster). When coming up with a name, there are two important aspects. The name should be legally protectable and available to be used without infringing other trademarks.
The name is protectable if it is “distinctive”, i.e. does not describe the product or services. Indirect references to the service (e.g. “Shopify”, “WeWork”, “Reggster”) are generally ok.
The second important aspect is to check that nobody else has already registered a similar name so it can actually be used without infringing other brands. Having to change the name later can be very expensive and most of the investments made towards the brand will go to waste. Building a new brand will also take time.
When branding, it is also useful to think beyond names and logos. For example, Christian Louboutin has registered the red shoe sole as his trademark, Toblerone’s shape is a registered trademark, and Polar Bear Pitching has registered the act of pitching from an ice hole as a trademark. Almost anything that distinguishes a product or service can be protected with trademarks.
3. Patents before launch
If you have technical inventions, you should be mindful that once they are disclosed to the public (for example speaking from an ice hole or running a Kickstarter campaign), it is no longer possible to patent that invention.
Patent applications must be filed before the invention is made public. Often there are good reasons for not patenting, but the decision whether or not to patent should be made while patenting is still an option. Also, designs (e.g. the shapes of products and graphical user interfaces) should be protected before making them public.
If you have any questions regarding your branding or intellectual property matters, come and meet Reggster at the brand clinic during Polar Bear Pitching conference.