New startups run a fine line between getting their ideas out there and protecting their intellectual property. One the one hand, they need the help of others to get their creations off the ground. And on the other, they’re at constant risk of having their ideas stolen. What’s worse, IP protection isn’t universal. Often there’s no real attempt to stop businesses in China copying Western startup inventions. And it puts their whole operation at risk.
Protecting IP should be at the top of your list of priorities going forward. After all, it’s IP that makes your startup valuable. So what cost-effective ways are there for small businesses to protect themselves from the trolls?
Research Foreign Markets
Right now you might live in a country with good intellectual property rights. But don’t assume that other nations have the same standards. Developing countries, in particular, tend to be quite relaxed about IP. And many countries have only just signed up to the WTO’s TRIPS agreement on patents. Once your product is out in one of these domestic markets, you need to be careful. If there is no IP law, or it’s not properly enforced, then you run the risk of having your ideas stolen. Remember, just because a country is signed up to an IP agreement, or has IP laws on the books, doesn’t guarantee you’ll be protected.
File Your Trademark
It only costs about $770 to have an attorney file your trademark. Thus, most startups have the cash to do it immediately. Trademarks are critical, especially if you’re in an industry with many players. You need something that differentiates you from the competition. And often the only way to do that is to build a trusted brand. The last thing you want is for somebody to steal some of your mojo by using your trademarked name or products.
Tell Your Clients About Your IP
When you present an idea or product to clients, make sure you get them to sign a nondisclosure agreement. This is a legal document that prevents them from discussing the details of your product with third parties. It also says that you are the legal owner of an idea, so there’s no scope for copying.
Contact Perpetrators Directly
There will likely come a time when somebody will try to steal one or more of your ideas. The Council of State Governments calculated that the cost of IP infringement is $58 billion a year. So what can you do to fight back? One way it to just send your competitor a letter asking them to stop doing what they’re doing. Make it appear as formal and as legal as possible. And ask them to take measures to stop any further infringement on your IP. Usually, this is enough to prevent most companies from copying your ideas or technology. But you may also need the help of mediators. The Intellectual Property Office, for instance, offers mediation services for businesses accused of infringement. However, some companies involved in trademark disputes may need to seek professional legal advice.