Intellectual property (IP) is not exactly “fun or exciting” — however, it is the most important aspect of your startup and needs to be protected. Securing and protecting the intellectual property rights to your invention is key to successful commercialization.
Below we answer some of the common IP questions we hear from entrepreneurs.
When should I start thinking about protecting my startup’s IP?
Immediately after your startup is formed is the best time to get all the founders on the same page regarding IP. The most valuable asset of your startup is in fact its intellectual property; therefore it should be at the top of your ‘to-do’ list. IP is the heart and soul of your business and needs to be protected by patents, copyrights and/or trademarks — which ever makes the most sense for your business and invention. Without a proper IP strategy, you are leaving the door open for major complications down the road.
What type of IP protection is necessary for my business?
Patents, copyrights and trademarks are all forms of intellectual property. While all three types of IP are indeed essential for success, hardware-focused startups rely heavily on patents.
What exactly is a patent? A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). U.S. patent grants are effective only within the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. possessions. There are three types of patents: utility, design and plant patents.
- Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof;
- Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture; and
- Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.
Why should I even consider IP protection for my startup?
If you plan on moving towards commercialization with your product, you are going to want to have control over your startup’s IP. Patents can bolster competitive advantage and assist in the streamlining of the entire commercialization process. If your startup is planning on seeking outside funding from VCs, having all of the founders on the same page regarding IP protection is imperative.
While patents do not guarantee success, they do allow you to secure all rights and claims to your invention. Without patent protection, some inventions cannot be commercialized because both the inventor and investors understand that the product can easily be duplicated, leaving them with no recourse if their product is copied.
How do I file a patent for my invention?
There are a few necessary steps to take before you actually file a patent. First, a patent search will need to be conducted to make sure that the invention does not already exist. The USPTO makes it possible to conduct a preliminary patent search on your own; however, it is highly recommended that you consult with a licensed patent search firm to assist with the bulk of the research. These firms have vast experience researching and are extremely knowledgeable in the classification systems.
If you plan on filing a utility patent, you will next need to decide whether to file a provisional or non-provisional utility patent. In simple terms, a provisional application is a quick and inexpensive way to begin protecting an invention while you continue its development, conduct market testing and obtain funding. A provisional patent gives you exactly one year to file a non-provisional utility patent application and move forward in the patent process.
When it comes time to begin your patent search and subsequent patent filing, we highly recommend that you consult with a licensed patent attorney to review your patent options and decide what will be the most-beneficial for your specific invention.
Have additional questions regarding intellectual property? Send them our way at firstname.lastname@example.org
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Startup Connector is a Manufacturing Accelerator helping companies commercialize—turning ideas into products.