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When It Comes To Your Startup’s IP—Timing Is Everything
It is always best to set up rigorous intellectual property (IP) practices from Day One, but more often than not it gets pushed to the side for ‘later’. If you take a step back though and put this into perspective, ask yourself one question, What is my startup’s most valuable asset? It is not the workspace or funding, but the intellectual property—the disruptive idea, brilliant invention or genius breakthrough. The IP is the heart and soul of the business. This integral piece of your startup needs to be protected by patents, copyrights and/or trademarks as well as through a few internal measures. Without a proper IP strategy, you are leaving the door open for major complications down the road.
To best protect your startup’s most precious asset, it’s critical to have all founders, employees and anyone involved in creating the idea sign over their intellectual property rights to the startup itself. The best time to do this is in the early-stages of business, but if that has already come and gone, we suggest doing it ‘now’ instead of ‘later’. Here are a few other instances where locking in a firm IP process is beneficial.
- When The Founders Get Serious. Your startup has just been incorporated and the team is ecstatic. Everyone is ready to get to work and propel the business forward. Press the pause button right here for a minute, and have everyone assign IP rights to the company and document who’s come up with which business concepts. While everything is moving smoothly now, it may not be in a few months or years, and it is best to get this information locked in from the get-go.
- When There Is A New Hire. Hiring your first employee? This is an exciting time! However, it is also a time that your startup begins to become more vulnerable and your IP needs to be protected. “Have new hires ink an agreement with a ‘present assignment’ clause that assigns everything they invent or create, whether it’s patentable or not, to the company, effective on their date of hire. Make sure the agreement includes a ‘further assurances’ clause, in which the employee agrees to cooperate in the future, if needed, to assist with showing that the startup owns the IP. To top it off, the agreement should include confidentiality obligations, permitting them to use or reveal confidential information only for the startup’s benefit.” (Tech Crunch)
- When Seeking A Patent. Filing a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office can be quite a process. Before you submit your application have every inventor assign all rights for the invention to the company. This then becomes public record, so it’s easy to see whether the company owns all the rights to its IP.
- Before Searching For Funding. If you get all founders to sign over IP rights at the beginning, finding funding gets much less complicated. If a VC gets the slightest hint of trouble between founders, they tend to walk. Having your team all on the same page is vital.
We highly suggest that you take the time early-on to consult with a licensed IP attorney to assist in the development of a strong IP strategy for your startup.