It is common knowledge that at the core of every successful startup or technology company lies a great idea. Many startups are focused on bringing this idea to market in the shortest period possible, but in the process they fail to adequately safeguard their most important asset – their intellectual property (“IP”).
Below are some fundamental steps that tech companies can take in order to protect their products and inventions:
Developing a strong access control, both physically and digitally, ensures that nobody has access to sensitive information. Reduce the risk of infringement by limiting the exposure and keeping your products as secret as possible.
Even when trying to recruit co-founders, or at the very early stages of commercial agreements with customers or equity financing, non-disclosure agreements should be signed. Make sure the non-disclosure obligations are binding on the recipients of the company’s confidential information during the term of the engagement and for a period thereafter.
Try to avoid the risk of forming a company with founders/employees who are still employed by other companies or who are in the process of graduate or PhD programs, as ordinarily such employers/academic institutions will include confidentiality and assignment of invention clauses in their employment agreements or bylaws. This could potentially jeopardize the integrity of the IP developed in the newly formed company. To the maximum extent possible, try to start a new venture with fully committed founders and employees. This will save huge “headaches” down the road.
Demonstrate the technology is yours
Keep all evidence, records, and documentation of your inventions and their development in case of infringement by third parties. Make sure your records are dated clearly in order to demonstrate the development process.
Protect your IP
Identify what types of IP are key for your venture (patent, trademark, design, or copyright), and decide what is the best way to protect it. Think globally, as most IP protections are territorial. If you plan on operating in several jurisdictions, you will need to protect your IP in each of these jurisdictions.
Before you opt to incorporate open source into your IP, become intimately familiar with the license terms that apply to such software, as well as any sharing requirements and notice restrictions that may apply. Many times, using open-source software is both fast and efficient, but if its use could force the company to share its core IP with third parties due to the use of certain open-source components in its source code, then at the very least companies should be aware of these requirements and weigh them against the use of other less restrictive open-source licenses or “in-house” development.
Educate your employees and create company policies in order to assist in preventing unnecessary disclosure of IP within the company, and, by extension, dissemination to third parties.