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Intellectual Property Strategies for Startups

By John DiGiacomo

One of the toughest things about being a new and struggling startup is that funds can be incredibly limited, so you have to carefully assess how to use the precious resources you have most effectively. All too often, startups forgo obtaining intellectual property (IP) rights on valuable technology, iconic designs, as well as the company name and domain name. While the decision to skimp on IP spending in the early days of your startup may seem smart and thrifty at the time, you face the risk of losing the ability to exclusively use that intellectual property for your startup.

What Types of IP Rights are Available for Startups?

There are four main types of intellectual property rights that startups can use to their advantage to secure a competitive place in the market. These four types of intellectual property include:

  • Trade Secrets. A trade secret is some form of business-related information that provides the startup with a competitive advantage in the marketplace due to the secret nature of the information. For many startups just starting out, trade secrets are a desirable form of IP because they are the most affordable form of intellectual property. All that is required to establish trade secret protection is to take active steps to keep the information secret and away from general disclosure to the public.
  • Trademarks. Trademarks can be obtained on any name, design, or logo, that you use in commerce in association with your business or a particular good or service. Registering a trademark with the federal government affords your startup certain legal protections that can protect your brand from copy cats and competitors.
  • Copyrights. Copyright protection can be obtained on any creative work that is fixed in a tangible medium. For instance, any logo, product design, literature, stylized text associated with a product, or graphic design for your startup can be copyright protected.
  • Patents. Patent are granted on new and innovative technologies, i.e., inventions. There are certain legal requirements on what can be patented, and the invention must be new and not obvious based on what already exists in the world. Issued patents grant the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, or importing the invention in the United States for a period of 20 years.

An Important Note on Trademark Protection for Startups

It would be a critical mistake for a startup not to obtain trademark protection on the company name and the name that will be used in the domain name for the company’s website. It takes a lot of time and energy to build a startup into a successful company and if you wait until you are successful to secure the trademark protection you need for your company name and domain name, you might find out too late that a competitor or some other business already has IP rights to that name. You do not want to spend a lot of time building brand recognition for a name that you cannot secure trademark rights to.

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