By Katherine (Tori) Lutz, Freelance Writer, Editor & Social Media Strategist
Entrepreneurs are highly valued for their novel ideas and ability to turn those ideas into workable product. But many entrepreneurs don’t know how to protect their ideas and make sure they can get the most out of them. This is where patent protection comes in.
IP Law Basics
Intellectual property law, or IP law, was developed to set guidelines for dispute of intellectual property and to foster entrepreneurship. Intellectual property refers to the intangible marketplace of ideas and work that isn’t easily covered by physical property laws.
There are four main kinds of IP law: copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and patents. Copyrights protect original creative work like writing, music, artwork, and even coding. Trademarks deal with brand identity: logos, jingles, slogans, even specific color palettes. Trade secrets are exactly what they sound like, ensuring that sensitive information that can benefit a company remains secret.
Patents, the fourth IP law category, are crucial when it comes to entrepreneurship. Patenting a product or design enables the patent owner to be the only person bringing that specific product to market. In fact, this temporary monopoly can be good for up to 20 years.
Why Seek a Patent?
Sure, patent cost can be quite significant depending on its scope and field. But the potential gains are tremendous, and the drawbacks of failing to invest in intellectual property protections can be severe.
The temporary monopoly granted by a successful patent filing can open up vast opportunities for profit. A new, novel invention that no one else has made before carries with it an intrinsic novelty value and will have no generic competitors to drive the price down. This is a great way to offset research and production costs incurred during development.
On the other hand, working on development of an unpatented invention can be perilous. J.D. Houvener, Philadelphia patent attorney, warns of the dangers of waiting too long to look into patenting:
“Entrepreneurs are especially at risk for getting taken advantage of by predatory businesses or patent trolls. Large businesses with a well-funded legal team and robust production infrastructure will often attempt to reverse-engineer unprotected products or technology, or file patents before the unwitting smaller company can. This leads to a situation where innovation isn’t rewarded, and unscrupulous actors take the profit.”
Getting IP Protection
So what steps should entrepreneurs take to look into patent protection? After all, the process can be daunting and expensive.
What’s important to note is that not every company and not every idea is ripe for a patent, but that it’s never too early to get informed. After the public disclosure of an invention or product, or the first offer to sell a product, U.S. companies have only one year to file a patent. This means that time is of the essence.
A qualified patent lawyer can also inform you about the different patentable aspects of your invention. Design patents and utility patents both have several requirements that must be met in order to qualify.
A patent search is also an integral part of the process. The United States Patent and Trademark Office offers a search feature to make sure that the invention you’re trying to patent has not already been filed. If this is a case, it’s important to check that you yourself are not the one infringing!
As an entrepreneur, having a plan in place for intellectual property matters should be somewhere close to the top of the priorities list. Given the sensitive nature of patenting both legally and in terms of timing, getting informed as early as possible is key.
Patents can make it possible to succeed and make a profit in the fast-paced and risky world of startups and innovators, and protect smaller companies from the predatory practices of larger ones. Start a patent search, do more IP law research, and consult a patent attorney sooner than later to protect your ideas and your business.
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