As an entrepreneur, you may discover a new way to improve something or solve a market problem. To protect your new business idea, you’ll need to take the necessary steps. You never know how many millions of dollars a great idea is worth unless you follow through with a patent and prototype. Here’s a look at the various ways you can protect your innovative business ideas.
- Issue Non-Disclosure Agreements
You’ll need to meet with various professionals to discuss developing your idea, which could earn revenue from licensing or other methods. It’s important to get each associate to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) or Confidentiality Statement to ensure your sensitive details remain private.
In some cases, investors or clients might refuse to sign an NDA, leading to lost business opportunities. On the other hand, if competitors find out your business strategies before you have a chance to implement them, it can be a turning point in their favor.
Before you apply for official patent protection, you can take preliminary steps to protect your product, such as applying for patent-pending status. It’s a low-cost way to document your concept before someone else does. Once approved, a patent-pending status lasts for one year, which gives you time to put funding together for the much more expensive official patent.
- Apply for a U.S. Patent
One of the most powerful ways to protect your inventions or new processes is to apply for a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In the United States, you cannot patent an idea, but you can patent new methods for solving problems. The three different types of patents you may apply for pertain to
- utility (a useful device)
- plant (a new type of plant)
Regardless of which type you apply for, the product or method must be novel, non-obvious, and include a clear description of the concept. Getting awarded a patent, which takes several months, is the first solid step toward protecting intellectual property. From there, you can exercise your patent authority through licensing and litigation.
Before applying for a patent, you should speak with a patent attorney who can help you determine through research if your patent meets the government’s criteria. It’s important to run a patent search to see if the idea has already been patented. Just because you’ve never heard of your discovery before doesn’t mean someone hasn’t already patented it. Many patents sit dormant for many years until a product is put on the market.
- Trademark Your Brand Names
Another important step in protecting your business is to trademark the names of your company, brands, and products. Many times, a company name is tied to its business ideas. A trademark provides owners with similar protections as patents, except it’s used for names, words, and symbols that distinguish a company’s branding from its competitors.
So, to understand the difference between a patent and a trademark, just think of patents as protection for products and processes, whereas a trademark protects what you call your products and processes. Both of these forms of intellectual property are distinguished from copyrights, which protect written or produced content such as videos, blogs, and music. All forms of intellectual property are considered “intangible assets.”
- Publicly Document Your Idea
You may come up with a business idea that works on a small scale but isn’t practical for filing a patent unless you see rising demand. Some business leaders believe it’s best to first make the product, then do some test marketing to see if people are willing to pay for it.
Once you see a good reaction, you can begin to spread the word about it through your own documentation. Building this awareness can lead to market disruption and media attention. By this point, you can start approaching investors to show you have a marketable solution, which can lead to funding that pays for the patent. Otherwise, if you avoid market tests, it could mean spending thousands of dollars on a patent for something with no market demand.
By crafting a detailed history of your business idea, you’ll have a timeline of evidence that may convince a jury you are the originator of the concept. Someone might steal your idea and think they can get away with marketing it in another city. Valuable ideas attract cybercriminals because they like to sell stolen trade secrets to other criminals on the dark web. So, make sure your proprietary secrets are securely out of their reach.
Understanding Your Intellectual Property Rights
Remember that patents, trademarks, and copyrights are up to you, not the government, to enforce. All kinds of theft happen in the business world, such as counterfeiters in foreign countries imitating popular brands and products from children’s toys to food and pharma drugs. In the music world, this practice was traditionally called “bootlegging.”
As an inventor and patent holder, you have the right to decide how other entities can use your intellectual property through licensing. However, if you create the product under someone else’s direction, the commissioning organization has the right to file a patent as a “work for hire.” Google, for example, was built at Stanford University, which was awarded a patent for the project’s algorithmic page-rank search technology. Stanford licensed the technology to Google in exchange for company shares.
Protecting your intellectual property is crucial to gain market share and discourage competitors from stealing your ideas. Setting up an appropriate insurance plan can protect various other elements of your operation. For more information on how to protect your business idea, contact our experts at First Insurance Solutions today.