Entrepreneurs often put intellectual property (IP) lower down the priority list. They are focused on talking to customers, launching a product, building a website, recruiting a hot development team in India, China or the Baltics. Oh, and raising funding, fighting dilution and eventually exiting the company. With all the competing demands, time, budget and inclination to learn about IP can be very limited.
From an IP strategist’s perspective, we think that time up front focused on IP matters is critical for growing technology businesses to ensure the maximum value is built and realised at the various funding rounds and value realisation points. Unless you have your house in order and a good “IP story”, it’s easy for investors / purchasers to use IP as a bargaining chip to reduce the price. If the IP position is not clear and secure, many investors will simply walk away.
Simple is best
Start with a simple IP strategy. Understand your business plan, the technology involved, its uniqueness and ‘special sauce’ and how to protect this. Strategies of secrecy, locking down employee confidentiality agreements, or simply having the fewest number of core people involved in the clever stuff can be a good basis for protection.
If it’s appropriate, filing some patent applications can really strengthen your position. You are unlikely to see these granted as fast as your product and market develops, but they can provide more value later, and the ‘patent pending’ claim can really help build marketing messages and perception of value. Also, remember to be mindful of what else is out there, be aware of your competition and their existing technologies and patents. And don’t be too proud: you might be able to secure low-cost licenses or partnerships while you are small, and save yourself having to re-invent the wheel.
Finally, don’t forget to grab the right domain names (check what else is out there that can lead to brand confusion) and consider the extent to which registering trademarks and designs will protect your brand and specific products to add more value to prospective purchasers. All these actions can help prevent others from stealing your brand value and ideas.