Is a patent enough? How to protect your intellectual property

You had a great idea and you started a business around it. Now, you need to protect that intellectual property.

First, check to be sure that your idea is original. Conduct patent and trademark searches early in the development of new products and processes to make sure there isn’t anyone else already protecting the same ideas or concepts.

If you do have an original, patentable idea, go ahead and file a patent application. Filing an initial patent application gives you time to develop or sell your idea, complete market research and/or raise money.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to a lawyer right away, starting with these first steps. To ensure that any trademark you develop is properly protected, contact a trademark agent for advice about searches and registration.

A lawyer can also give you advice on whether you need to protect your intellectual property in overseas markets. Intellectual property rights, which include country-specific U.R.L.’s, need to be obtained country by country, and not all countries provide the same level of protection.

Cost can vary significantly. For those looking to sell or manufacture in countries beyond the U.S., consider developing a strategy to go after IP protection in a limited number of countries that are most likely to be of use.

Consult a lawyer to decide what your international IP strategy should be and conduct a cost-benefit analysis to see if expanding your IP rights makes sense.

Throughout the process, be sure to keep a log of evidence that records the development of intellectual property, such as dated and signed copies of drawings, drafts or presentations.

While you’re working to obtain trademarks and patents, don’t forget about related items, such as a company website U.R.L. Unlike a patent, which can cost up to $25,000 to secure, trademarks and web addresses can be obtained relatively cheaply, without assistance. So it’s best to secure the U.R.L. you need early on in the process, before someone else does.

Working toward a patent is great, but make sure you understand what rights it will give you. A patent does not give you the right to produce something, but rather the right to prevent someone else from producing what your patent covers.

And even if you have a patent, there’s no guarantee someone won’t try to get around it. Patent trolls, or people who collect patents but don’t make anything and instead make money filing lawsuits against real businesses, are on the rise. The term was coined as a result of a lawsuit between NTP, a small holding company, and Research in Motion, which makes BlackBerrys. The dispute centered around NTP’s patent for wireless email delivery, something Research in Motion eventually would pay millions of dollars to license.

Even though there’s no guarantee that you will win if you engage in a legal battle, it’s often worth prosecuting to protect what’s yours. The more evidence and documentation you’ve collected along the way, the better. Consult your lawyer to help identify IP breaches and decide when it’s worth going after offenders.

To stay on top of all potential issues, it’s worth creating a policy for all of your intellectual property, including all patents, designs, trademarks, copyrights and domain names. Then, use contracts to help prevent theft. Ensure all your employment and consultancy contracts clearly state your ownership of any intellectual property developed for you.

If you hold copyrights for certain materials, make sure you add the copyright symbol, your name and the creation date to emphasize they are protected.

As your intellectual property grows and expands, make sure to keep assessing things at every stage of development. For physical products, it may be worth protecting new designs for the appearance of all or part of the product with stronger design registration.

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