This article was originally posted on District 3 on March 16, 2021.
Many aspects of your business involve intellectual property. Your idea, your invention, your products, your brand, your business methods are all key assets for your new business venture. Yet many start-ups don’t consider how to protect it or understand how to leverage its value for financing or growth.
IP is something that every start-up needs to consider as it develops its business strategy.
That’s why you need to understand the basics of intellectual property; including figuring out what IP you have, how you can leverage it and protect it.
IP can be complex, particularly if you need to formally protect it and develop an IP strategy; you will need to seek out expert advice and be aware of the potential costs.
Understand the basics of intellectual property
1. Take the time to understand the basics, and what the most common forms of IP are. They include:
- Patents, which protect inventions;
- Trademarks, which protect your brand;
- Industrial Design registrations, which protect your product’s unique appearance;
- Copyright, which protect original and creative works; and,
- Trade secrets, which protect your valuable business information, including methods, techniques and processes.
2. Learn how to identify and assess your intellectual property and what you need to protect.
Use this handy checklist to do an inventory of your intellectual property, and start formulating a plan.
3. Take a look around in the marketplace and at your competitors’ IP.
It is important to know what IP already exists and what competitors have, so that you can better focus your own efforts, targeting gaps in the marketplace and/or avoiding infringing on your competitors’ IP.
Leverage your IP to raise funds or add value
1. Learn how to leverage your intangible assets.
Your IP is a valuable business asset, and needs to be treated as such. Figure out what it is worth and how to generate more value from it.
2. Proper valuation of your IP is crucial to attract financing or venture capital.
It can also add value to your business through licensing and commercialization.
3. Protecting your IP, either through formal or informal means.
It will protect your business against competitors’ unauthorized use of your product/invention/brand/design/unique business methods.
4. Become known in the marketplace and expand to other markets.
It protects your investments as you grow. For example, it is essential to protect your IP in other countries where you plan on doing business BEFORE you enter these markets.
Develop an IP Strategy
As you develop your business plan, include an IP strategy.
It is basically a plan for how you will develop, grow, leverage and monetize your IP assets.
Follow these steps; or use this handy IP Strategy Assessment Guide, developed by CIPO and the BDC.
Get expert help and understand the costs
There are professionals and many resources available to help you determine what IP you have, whether it should be protected and how, and what costs it entails.
IP professionals such as Patent and Trademark agents and IP lawyers can provide you with strategic advice and assist in filing IP applications.
Registering a trademark can be relatively straightforward, depending on the range of products and the markets you are entering. Most trademark registries, including Canada, don’t require applicants to be represented by a trademark lawyer. That being said, there are considerations, including similarity with existing trademarks, which class of goods and services your trademark will cover, and so on.
For patents, it is generally recommended to hire an IP professional, such as a registered IP Agent. They provide you with knowledgeable advice on the best course of action to protect your invention, and have the expertise to draft and file your application, which generally requires specialized knowledge in patent law. Not all inventions are patentable, so it is important to assess this with the help of a professional, so that you can consider other strategies such as confidentiality agreements.
Valuable business information such as trade secrets, need to be protected through non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements.
There are various estimates of costs, depending on the complexity of your IP portfolio. There is an interesting blog here on the costs of filing a patent in Canada and the US.
Written by Johanne Belisle, Former CEO of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office and Member of the IP Osgoode Advisory Board