When it comes to your business, one of your most precious assets is your intellectual properties. A strong IP portfolio can be the foundation of your business. It will be what sets you apart from your competitors. It will be what gives you the edge in acquiring customers.
A diverse IP portfolio can also protect you from litigation. If you have been following the technology industry news, then you might be familiar with the patent war between Samsung and Apple. There have also been companies that specialize on preying upon businesses that have weak IP portfolios in order to gain a quick profit through the courts. A strong portfolio will help you discourage potential litigation by leveraging the strength of your own IP.
So how can you build and protect your own IP portfolio? Here are a few tips.
1. Keep your ideas secret
The best way to keep your ideas from getting stolen is by keeping them a secret. Talk about it only with people that need to know about it. If you do need to discuss this idea with anyone, it’s a good idea to have them sign a confidentiality agreement. These agreements will have to be dated with the time and place of signing and signed in your presence with a few more witnesses.
Why would this be important? Keeping people that know about your ideas under an agreement to keep them a secret would discourage leaks since they are now legally bound not to discuss your ideas with anyone else. The time and date on the agreement will also help you establish that you are the first to come up with that idea should you run into a legal dispute over your ideas.
2. Research by searching for existing patents
Are your ideas already registered? A quick Google patent search can save you a lot of money by letting you know immediately if your ideas have already been registered by another entity.
3. Register your ideas
It is important for you to register your ideas. Depending on your country, your ideas can be protected as a patent, trademark or copyright. The important thing is to register your ideas as fast as possible after you’ve done your initial research.
Patents are basically awarded to inventions. If you’ve come up with a totally new product, or a new process that is useful, unique and non-obvious, you can protect your ideas by applying for a patent. As the owner of the patent, you can prevent others from using your invention for a number of years depending on your country’s laws.
Trademarks are awarded to your product, business and service names. Trademarks will keep other businesses from using the same name of your products and prevent confusion that may take place with multiple products of the same name in the market.
Copyrights are awarded to original works of authorship. This includes literary, musical and dramatic works. Copyrights can also be extended towards software. In most cases, copyrights are awarded as soon as you fix your work into its distribution medium (for example: burning your music into CDs for distribution and sale or publishing your new website). It is best to affix the copyright symbol immediately to show your intent to enforce your ownership over the material. In some countries, registration of copyrights isn’t mandatory, but it is still best practice to register for a copyright so that it is easier to protect your IP in court.
Since laws will vary across countries, you should always seek legal counsel from a dedicated IP attorney. Also remember that IP protections can take time to process (sometimes years) depending on where you applied it, so filing earlier is better than later.
Create other means to prove ownership over an idea
While having your property registered is already a very potent piece of evidence demonstrating your ownership over an idea, you also want to create supporting pieces of evidence to further protect you in case a legal patent dispute takes place. These include NDA’s, contracts, emails, evidence of use that show activity around the IP that can be time verified.
4. Look into the future
The best ideas are the ideas that will be useful just beyond the horizon. Try to visualize what the future will be like and start protecting your ideas that would work best in the immediate future.
5. Look into registering your ideas in other countries
The thing about IP portfolios is that they are mostly only protected in the countries you registered them in. For example, a patent you own in the USA won’t hold much ground in the EU. Consider filing your patents in other countries to provide better protection internationally.
Do not underestimate the importance of your original ideas. Employing proper measures to protect them will minimize the chances that your competition will steal your ideas. If they do attempt to steal them, then you’ll have the necessary tools to protect your business through the legal system.