Guest Post By Leena Chitnis, Founder & CEO, Timberdog®
In today’s fast-paced business environment, intellectual property (IP) has become an invaluable asset for emerging companies. IP refers to the legal rights that are granted to individuals or businesses for their inventions, creations, and innovations. It includes patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. Emerging companies invest significant time, effort, and resources in developing their IP, making it crucial for them to protect it.
Let’s delve into the specific reasons why.
MAINTAINING A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE
Emerging companies often rely on their unique ideas, products, or services to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Obtaining patents or trademarks for their inventions or brand names can prevent others from copying or imitating their innovations, protecting those ideas and giving them a competitive edge. For example, a startup that has developed a new technology can protect it with a patent, preventing competitors from using or selling the same technology without permission. This exclusivity can be a significant advantage in the market, allowing startups to capitalize on their IP and stay ahead of the competition.
ENHANCING THE VALUE OF AN EMERGING COMPANY
IP can be valuable assets that contribute to the overall value of an emerging company. For instance, a startup that owns a trademark for a popular brand name can build customer loyalty and brand recognition, which can translate into increased sales and higher market value. Similarly, a startup that owns copyrights to its original creative works, such as software, music, or literature, can license or sell those works, generating additional revenue streams. Investors and potential buyers often assess the IP portfolio of an emerging company as part of their due diligence process. A robust IP protection strategy can enhance the value and attractiveness of a startup to potential investors or buyers.
SAFEGUARDING AN EMERGING COMPANY’S REPUTATION
Reputation is crucial for emerging companies as they build trust and loyalty with customers. A startup that has invested in building a reputable brand can protect it through trademarks and prevent others from diluting or tarnishing its brand image. IP protection can also help startups avoid legal disputes that could damage their reputation. For example, if a startup is accused of infringing someone else’s IP, it can result in costly lawsuits, negative publicity, and reputational harm. By proactively protecting their own IP, emerging companies can minimize the risk of IP disputes and protect their hard-earned reputation and goodwill in the market.
FOSTERING INNOVATION AND ENCOURAGING CREATIVITY
Finally, emerging companies are often the drivers of innovation in various industries, and IP protection provides them with the incentive to continue developing new ideas and inventions. By obtaining patents, startups can secure the rights to their inventions and have the exclusive right to commercially exploit them for a certain period. This exclusivity provides startups with the confidence and incentive to invest in research and development, knowing that they can reap the rewards of their innovation through IP protection. IP protection also encourages emerging companies to share their ideas with partners, investors, and customers, as they can do so with the assurance that their IP is legally protected.
HOW I PROTECTED THE RUFFREST® ULTIMATE PET BED ON A LEAN BUDGET
Five years into operating Timberdog®, I am still operating very efficiently, and hope to stay lean throughout the course of my entrepreneurial journey. Being scrappy has forced me to think outside of the box to tackle innumerable problems, sharpening my skills as a founder and CEO.
Affording legal services as a small business is tough, but protecting your IP is extremely important before entering the market. Here are some tips for investing in IP judiciously and managing your legal costs.
GO BACK TO SCHOOL
No, I don’t mean re-enroll. Instead, approach your alma mater’s law clinics and ask them if they’ll help you get started with the due diligence for a trademark (for a patent, it’s advisable to work with a patent attorney). If you take this route, you’ll be working with several cohorts of 3Ls – or third-year law students to help you, for example, generate patent and trademark applications that should ultimately be reviewed by a patent and/or trademark attorney before filing. Also check out the Patent Pro Bono Program for Independent Inventors and Small Businesses. They should have a list of schools, agents, and attorneys who may be able to help you on a pro bono basis.
I was thrilled when my grad school – Syracuse University – agreed to work with me. The sharp, inquisitive, and zealous students from their Transactional Law Clinic, headed up by Jessica Murray, oversaw the drafting, submitting, prosecution, and ultimate acceptance of two trademarks. All for free.
WORK WITH ONLINE LEGAL SERVICE COMPANIES FOR MINOR MATTERS
Need an NDA? Or talent releases for an upcoming commercial shoot? You can find solid boilerplate templates online that you can amend for your needs. Always have an attorney (it’s helpful if you’ve got some lawyer friends) look over the work you’ve done to make sure you’ve covered all of your bases. In return, offer to pay your friends. Mine usually give me a heavily discounted “friends and family rate.” If they refuse to accept payment from me, I’ll take them out for a nice dinner or send a gift basket to show my appreciation. As a business rule, never take anything for free. Showing a physical token of gratitude goes a long way in ensuring that you can continue to approach your connections for help. And they’ll remember and appreciate your gestures.
FIND A LAW FIRM WHO WILL WORK WITH YOU
Finding such a firm takes some doing. Few law firms have those coveted pro bono slots for small businesses and startups, and you’ve got to do the work by cold calling and emailing until you find them. Keep in mind that many firms deal in different types of IP, so, save your time by finding out what they specialize in. I built a multifunctional dog bed, so I needed to make sure I found a firm that handled all types of IP, not just, say, tech or medical.
Eventually, I found Rothwell, Figg, Ernst & Manbeck, a DC-based, award-winning firm consistently ranked as one of the best intellectual property law firms in the country. Through Rothwell Figg, I was able to file a utility patent application and secure my third trademark.
GET YOUR PATENT SKETCHES DONE OVERSEAS
I worked with PatSketch (formerly The Patents Drawing Company), headquartered in Illinois, but having employees in India. My sketches were extremely affordable (not more than a couple hundred dollars to get them all done), and were done to my attorneys’ satisfaction. I vetted this company by asking for a couple of their clients’ names, and was happy to find out that several reputable law firms in the US use their services.
ALWAYS HAVE ALL OF YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW BEFORE PAYING FOR LEGAL HELP
You should understand that law firms are service-based organizations that typically bill their individual attorneys by the hour. The attorneys that work on projects for you usually also serve a number of other clients that pay for their time at market rates. While these attorneys are expensive, working with them can pay dividends in terms of the quality of the work product for your particular matter, which can help with avoiding issue down the road that may be caused by sub-par work. That said, there is some heavy lifting that you can do in advance that would reduce the amount of time your attorney has to commit to your matter. What has worked for me is to writing all of my questions down, then researching them myself, exhaustively. You’ll find that Google does a nice job of helping cross off a lot of questions. Then and only then do I shoot off the most pertinent of these to my lawyer – no more than 2-3 short questions! The good attorneys are busy and are happy to have you perform this work in advance so they do not have to and can keep your bill low.
Protecting IP is crucial for emerging companies, as it helps them establish a competitive advantage, enhances their value, safeguards their reputation, and fosters innovation. Such startups should be proactive in identifying and protecting their IP assets through patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secret measures. Seeking legal counsel from IP professionals and implementing sound IP protection strategies can help emerging companies safeguard their valuable IP assets and thrive in today’s competitive business landscape.
Leena Chitnis is the Founder and CEO of Timberdog®, makers of the world’s first multifunctional pet bed, RuffRest® (patents pending)
Disclaimer: The information contained in this posting does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice or express any opinion to be relied upon legally, for investment purposes or otherwise. If you would like to obtain legal advice relating to the subject matter addressed in this posting, please consult with your attorney. The information in this post is also based upon publicly available information, presents opinions, and does not represent in any way whatsoever the opinions or official positions of the entities or individuals referenced herein or PatSketch.