Entrepreneurship is a field that traffics in ideas and how to make them into reality. What sets entrepreneurs apart from many other businesspeople is their ability to innovate.
Thus, intellectual property, and specifically patent protection, play a key role in entrepreneurship. In fact, many entrepreneurs would probably never have been successful without the right intellectual property protections. But what exactly is intellectual property really, and how does it work?
Here’s an overview.
IP Law: What Is It?
Intellectual property law, or IP law, is designed to regulate the marketplace of inventions and ideas just enough to give new businesses and brands a chance to compete.
IP law covers mostly intangible things like inventions, brands, creative works, and ways of doing business. However, it can also apply to physical designs and more. The four main branches of IP law are copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and patents.
Copyrights are inherent in any original creative work. This could be a piece of choreography, a musical score, a piece of poetry, or even video game artwork. But even though copyrights are intrinsic in common law, registering a copyright is always a good idea since it’s necessary for legal action to be taken regarding infringement.
Trademarks are all about maintaining a company brand. As soon as a company sells across state lines or online to other customer bases, that company needs to register their trademarks. This can include company or product slogans, logos, jingles, and anything else associated with the brand itself.
Trade secrets include areas pertaining to running a business, like contact lists or production processes. Ever wonder how the sauce at your favorite fast food place is made? That could be a trade secret.
Lastly, perhaps the most important area of intellectual property: patents. Patents are not included in common law; they give inventors and entrepreneurs the right to temporarily be the only entity bringing a specific product or service to market. This can be crucial because it rewards the first person to manifest an idea into an invention, rather than the company that has the most money to produce it the fastest.
IP Law and Entrepreneurs
At this point, it should be clear why entrepreneurs in particular have much to gain from understanding IP law, and much to lose from putting it off.
Entrepreneurship isn’t an easy business to be in; the competition is fierce, and the stakes are high. Without the right knowledge of IP law to help, many entrepreneurs could be taken advantage of by rival companies or even their collaborators.
J.D. Houvener, of the Houston law firm Bold Patents, considers helping startups and entrepreneurs navigate IP law one of the most rewarding aspects of his work.
According to Houvener: “Inventors and innovators: that’s who intellectual property rights were made to protect. By ensuring that entrepreneurs and startups get educated and protected in matters of IP, we keep all sorts of business sectors thriving and growing with an influx of new ideas. Without IP protections, a few big players would be content squashing any new ideas and letting their own companies maintain the status quo.”
Getting IP Protection
Intellectual property is valuable: that’s the whole reason why inventors and entrepreneurs are in high regard. Any fledgling startup typically relies on its ideas and concepts to motivate investors and fill a unique market niche.
Keeping this in mind, IP protection should be at the forefront of any entrepreneur’s mind. Protecting the most valuable asset available is of the utmost priority.
The reasons why entrepreneurs often fail to register their trademarks or patent their inventions are varied. Some neglect the process due to impatience or eagerness to realize their ideas, only to find that their revolutionary concept can now freely be copied by imitators and competitors.
Others simply aren’t informed enough about how IP protection works and why it would benefit them. Some may feel that hiring an IP lawyer or firm could be expensive.
In fact, patent cost varies greatly depending on your product, the scope of the patent, and many other factors, but it’s always worth it considering how much there is to lose without patent protection. Money invested now into getting IP consultation and filing a patent could prevent your business from going under in the long term due to predatory companies and competitors.
As an entrepreneur, intellectual property is a large part of what makes you valuable, and that property should be duly protected.
Copyright infringement, patent disputes, and other matters of conflict that fall under the IP umbrella can do a lot of damage to businesses, especially newer startups who may have more tenuous financial resources.
In order to be well equipped to defend your business against infringement and other intellectual property theft, make sure you stay on top of all the key areas of IP law as they apply to you. Consult an attorney or a law firm sooner rather than later, and you can rest easy knowing that your ideas are safe.
Filip Kovacevic is an entrepreneur and accomplished freelance writer in computer science and tech. Prior to starting his career in freelance writing, he worked on developing stories for the screen, in regards to technology. He holds a degree in Economics and Film production from Arizona State University.