I get that start-ups are like the Evel Knievel of the business world, willing to take insane risks and put it all on the line for that shot at glory. And hey, we can thank those daredevils who made the gutsy leap from suburban garage to billion-dollar behemoth for some of the world’s biggest brands, such as Google, Apple, and Amazon, just to name a few.
You can’t get money from a stone but…
But there is risk-taking and then there is living in a fantasy land where you pretend that basic business actions don’t apply you. Of course, the primary reason why start-up founders choose not to do something, like sit down with a lawyer or file a trademark or patent application, is money. You can’t get money from a stone – you either have it or you don’t.
Still, even Evel Knievel made sure his motorcycles were in perfect condition before he attempted to jump across 20 cars; not to do so would have been suicide. The equivalent for the start-up CEO is prioritising whatever money you do have to take those actions that make investors happy – and it’s a rare investor who would be willing to throw money at an enterprise with unprotected intellectual property.
Top 4 IP Actions for Start-Ups
Here are the top four IP actions start-up founders must prioritise in order to attract the big money:
- Protect your trade marks, please I beg you… at the very least, self-file one trademark application with IP Australia but remember a trademark attorney can advise how to protect as strategically as possible with the money you do have. Crucially, a trademark attorney can also use your Australian application to help you save time and money when filing overseas, including in the U.S. and other key markets. Money spent here will not only ensure you don’t lose your brand but will also start the process of nailing it down. It would take a lot of chutzpah to ask an investor for money when your start-up’s actual name isn’t protected.
- Seek advice early on about patenting and design registration – if you think you have something patentable or potentially protectable via the design registration system, sit down with a patent attorney ASAP. With both of these forms of IP, publicising, marketing, selling, etc. can make you ineligible for protection so it is essential to keep these under wraps until you’ve received advice and made applications. And again, your patent attorney can help you use your Australian application to save you time and money if you wish to file in other countries later.
- Use contracts whenever you commission anything for your new business, including when you ask your best friend’s little bro to create your app. I know that sounds unrealistic but without the right contract to ensure you have full title to the IP being created on your behalf, it will remain the property of whomever created it. Unfortunately, paying the invoice rarely translates to copyright ownership and so much of a new enterprise relies on this type of material. Also, use a non-disclosure (NDA) or confidentiality agreement if you must share confidential information and/or trade secrets with any party other than your mum – and possibly even your mum, that’s how serious this is. Sitting down with a lawyer, especially one that understands or even specialises in IP, is definitely worth it. Some may also be willing to tailor your own legal agreements to help you save money in fees.
- Conduct searches, including of IP databases – I’d like to assume this goes without saying but unfortunately the bottom of the barrel is littered with dead start-ups because no one bothered to check if that brilliant name was already taken (even if the URL was available), or there was already a patent or design registration. IP Australia provides online access to its patent, trademark and designs databases and its worth taking the time to learn more about how to use these to give you the best chance of not missing something crucial to your start-up. However, personally, I would always use a patent attorney for patent searching – it’s as much of an art as it is a science and takes real skill and experience to flush out relevant results.
Give your start-up the best possible chance of success and a shot at the big bucks by prioritising your money so that you protect the very essence of what makes your new enterprise worth investing in.
If you would like to better understand intellectual property, take KOMO’s handly online training course, which is also worth your time and at $99 is start-up friendly. As every successful business is built on an IP foundation, you might as well become an IP guru.