Intellectual property can be one of the most valuable assets of a company, and this is especially true of early stage companies.
One great idea can create or revolutionize an entire industry, but unless it is protected, that idea can be used against you by your competitors. That is why it is never too early to start thinking about IP creation and protection strategies. It is important to identify, protect, and even monetize your great ideas from the very start.
There are various ways to protect your IP, each of which have their own particular nuances, and some of which overlap. The four most common types of IP are trademarks, patents, trade secrets, and copyrights.
Trademarks are the names, phrases, symbols, designs, colors, or combinations of those that distinguish your products or services from those of your competitors. Trademark protection and marketing strategy go hand-in-hand and should be one of the first things a company considers protecting.
Patents cover new and useful processes, machines, manufacture, or compositions of matter, and any new and useful improvement of those. Patent protection strategy is an important consideration in any company’s development timeline and should be considered before a public disclosure or sale of the company’s products or services wherever possible.
Trade secrets can cover pretty much any type of information that has commercial value as a result of its secrecy (such as not being known to competitors) and it is the subject of reasonable efforts to keep the information secret. Trade secret protection relies on good confidentiality hygiene with a company’s employees and in its business deals. Early use of adequate non-disclosure agreements is an important way to retain trade secret protection.
Finally, copyrights cover original works of authorship, whether they be literary, musical, pictures, movies, sound recordings, and many others, including certain aspects of software source code. Whether copyrights will adequately protect your IP, or whether you should instead seek protection of another type of IP like patents or trade secrets, is something that must be considered on a case-by-case basis.