Obtaining intellectual property (IP) protection is important for anyone wanting to maintain rights to their inventions, designs or creative work. Many business owners, inventors and creators know protecting their creative work under intellectual property law is important, but they often don't realize a sound IP strategy is a crucial first step. Intellectual property law allows owners, inventors and creators of intellectual property to protect themselves from unauthorized use of their property. The primary forms of intellectual property are patents (utility and design), trademarks and copyrights.
Patents protect an inventor's creation, while trademark protection safeguards distinctive words, names, symbols, sounds and colors used to distinguish products and services of one business from another. Property that qualifies for copyright protection include literary works such as books and computer programs; dramatic works and the accompanying words; pictorial, graphics, photographs and sculptural works; motion pictures and audiovisual works; and sound recordings and musical works, including music from plays and dramatic readings, and recordings on tapes, cassettes and CDs.
Steps to Develop Your Company's IP Strategy
Inventing a product or service is an important first step for any company, but obtaining intellectual property protection is a process that needs planning ahead. With a well-developed IP strategy, you can protect your or your company's inventions and creative work, keeping tabs on how to allocate resources and when to explore new research and development opportunities. Here are five steps that can help you develop your own IP strategy:
1. Let your company's size guide you
First, your company's size and structure should guide your IP strategy. If you have a small company with only a few employees working on an invention, for example, you might not need a formal IP strategy. But larger companies, on the other hand, would be wise to develop a detailed IP strategy. One of the most important areas to clarify are ownership rights and publication policies. The strategy should take into account previous agreements between the company and employees (or contractors).
Larger companies may want to outline the roles and responsibilities of managers and employees in managing and disseminating the company policy regarding intellectual property use to ensure everyone follows the proper procedures that will maintain the company's intellectual property rights.
2. Establish guidelines for creating intellectual property
There are many questions you'll need to answer as you develop your IP strategy. First is to differentiate exactly how the intellectual property will be created. You should list each person involved in creating the work, then outline exactly what type of intellectual property protection you are seeking.
As you determine what type of intellectual property protection to seek, you'll want to conduct a comprehensive search of existing work to ensure you don't infringe on someone else's trademark, invention or copyrighted material. Fortunately, it's fairly easy to search for trademarks, patents and copyrights online, but there are many sources you will need to consult, so having professional help to conduct a search might be a better option for you. You don't want to develop products that are not protectable or plan to market a product that the creator isn't free to develop. Your IP strategy should take into account whether or not the company can afford this preliminary intellectual property search.
In addition, you should hold regular meetings to devise a plan of attack for creating your intellectual property.
You'll want to address the timeline for the entire process. Certain forms of research will have a longer development time than others. You should take this into consideration when creating your budget. If a product development takes too long to be market-ready, you might miss important intellectual property filing deadlines, which could further compound costs.
3. Analyze your competitive advantage and barriers to entry
One of the first questions you should answer before you invest in creating any kind of intellectual property is whether or not you can reap the rewards of your work in the marketplace. Would your invention, brand or creative work give you a competitive advantage in the marketplace? You'll need to do your research to see what's out there and evaluate if you could capitalize on your work. The market climate for your product or service will dictate how and if you develop intellectual property as well as which kinds of intellectual property to develop. Some questions to ask yourself include:
- What's the value of the product or service you are wanting to protect?
- In the current market, would you be able to make a good return on your investment?
- What is the competitive market?
- How do competitors market their product or service?
- Are there complementary industries in the market you might be able to tap into?
Answering each of these questions will help alleviate any freedom to operate issues that may arise between you and your competitors. You can gain a competitive edge by understanding and overcoming any barriers to entry, which include the following:
- Are there key personnel who might impede the process?
- Is the product or service designed for a niche market?
- Will the product or service require regulatory approval?
- Are there any competitors who offer a product that's similar to yours or are you the first to offer this type of product?
4. Analyze third-party interactions
Problems and misunderstandings that may arise from third-party relationships are one of the surest ways intellectual property can be lost. Any third parties who could potentially be involved in any portion of the development of the product or service being protected should be considered in developing your IP strategy. Third parties can include employees, suppliers, partners, contractors and even customers. Your IP strategy should dictate any employee contracts, supplier and contractor agreements, confidentiality agreements and licensing options.
5. Audit your intellectual property
Conducting an audit of your existing intellectual property materials should be a part of your IP strategy development. Be sure to include utility patents, trademarks, copyrights and design patents and the ownership and historical relationships related to these properties. The scope of protection of the intellectual property should also be included in the intellectual property audit to determine whether there may be any gaps in protection or risks in the development and intellectual property protection process. Finally, a formal exit strategy should be determined in case problems arise at any stage of the development process.
Companies of all sizes should focus time and energy on having a strong understanding of the intellectual property process, which can help you save time and money when developing a product or service and obtaining intellectual property protection. By determining your goals and evaluating your IP strategy for future success, you will have a better understanding of the environment your company is entering. A company can spend a lot of time on developing a product or service. An equal amount of time should be spent on developing your IP strategy to ensure the maximum return on your intellectual property investment.
This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.