Some intellectual property tips for start ups

Slush 2015 finished in Helsinki last week. What a great event it was, once again. Thanks organisers and volunteers and congratulations to CareMonkey for winning the pitching competition this year. During Slush I discussed intellectual property related issues with many entrepreneurs and thought that it could be useful to share some of my observations and recommendations for technology start ups here as well. Even if you are not interested in intellectual property rights you may still want to continue reading as not taking care of these topics will definitely impact your valuation.

1) Remember to safeguard your name and logo

You need to do some background work before selecting your name and logo so that you can use those in the markets that you intend to conquer. Obtain the required domain names and seek for trademark protection for the relevant name and marks in the key markets. Once you are successful somebody has most probably taken your domain names and getting them will cost a lot more.

2) Ensure that you own those rights that you think you own

Ideas, innovations and development work have often already been generated and carried out well before the time when the legal entity is established. These rights won’t transfer to your legal vehicle automatically when it is established but they need to be transferred to it. Contractors, employees and founders may all own some rights that need to be transferred. You need to also include relevant provisions to your employment and contracting agreements so that future work will also belong to your start up.

3) Protect your competitive advantage with trademarks, patents, design rights and confidentiality.

Think what can and should be protected, what can and should be public and what should be secret. Confidentiality is sometimes very good protection for items that cannot be safeguarded with patents. Patents are also somewhat costly to obtain but may be valuable. Copyright protects your software. Remember handle your source code with care.

4) Open source is a useful tool

Open source is a wonderful asset but even that should be used wisely. Remember to check the applicable licensing terms and obey them. You should also ensure that the terms work for your product or service and enable you to achieve your business goals.

5) Respect other parties’ property

Other people may have invented and protected your product or service or some of its components already. You may need to license some of that or do things differently. Ensure that the licensed rights are appropriate for your current use and that you can scale your business without needing to renegotiate them unnecessarily.