- Intellectual property can be difficult to protect in a crowdfunding campaign
- Innovations can usually be patented, but the process is lengthy and costly
- Motion pictures, sound recordings, pictorial, graphical and literary works can be copyrighted
- Registering your trademark is almost always a good idea
- Regulations vary from country to country
- Consult a lawyer if you are unsure about how to proceed
To get and maintain an edge in business, you need to protect your intellectual property. How can you manage a crowdfunding campaign without giving away too much information that your competitors can use to their advantage? If you have a product (or a component of a product) that can be patented, consider it seriously. If you have a creative work that can be copyrighted, do so immediately. It’s usually a good idea to register your trademark as well! If intellectual property is essential to your business success, as it usually is, it would be wise to consult a lawyer before you begin your crowdfunding campaign…
To get and maintain an edge in business, you need to protect your intellectual property. It’s no good creating a superior product or service, only to have your competitors snatch it up and use it for their own good, before you can even properly introduce it to the market. Whether you’re using a pre-order platform or one in which you give away actual equity in your company, crowdfunding can be a good way to get publicity and introduce your new product into the market. But how do you do it without giving away too much information about the ins and outs of your product or service? Here are some ideas.
Know When to Launch
People (entrepreneurs included) sometimes ignore what they are afraid of, instead of doing the productive thing of developing a counter-strategy. Having your intellectual property stolen is pretty scary because it usually means a significant loss of income. Protect your intangible assets early on, before your competitors hear about them. This is especially necessary if you’re planning a crowdfunding campaign that requires you to publicly disclose sensitive information about your product. Crowdfunding could potentially be disastrous for businesses who haven’t protected their intellectual property.
Develop an IP Strategy
It is important for startups and early stage companies to take the necessary steps to establish an IP strategy, an action that usually requires a financial investment into protecting the IP. Early stage companies often focus on operations and sales, items that are a necessity in the short term. However, backers looking to make long-term investments, as well as a return on that investment, are looking for security in the future, and without IP protection the investment can become questionable and risky. If you need to raise outside finance, you have to be able to view your own business from the point of view of an outside investor, and manage the risks that they would probably consider.
Patents can be expensive and difficult to get, so you need to make sure you can handle the costs of the process before you begin. Patent regulations also vary from country to country, and you need to be aware of the regulations that apply to you. Consult with a patent lawyer, your national Patent Office, or The European Patent Office (EPO) www.epo.org.
According to the EPO, ‘Patents are valid in individual countries for specified periods. They are generally granted by a national patent office, or a regional one like the EPO. Patents confer the right to prevent third parties from making, using or selling the invention without their owners’ consent’. An ‘invention’ can be patented if it is ‘a product, a process or an apparatus’…that is ‘new, industrially applicable and involves an inventive step’.
An ‘inventive step’ means a feature of an invention that involves technical advance as compared to the existing state of the art, which is not obvious to a skilled person in the art.
Patents should not be confused with the other kinds of intellectual property rights available such as utility models (can be registered in some countries, to protect technical innovations which might not qualify for a patent), copyright, trademarks and designs and models which protect a product’s visual appearance, i.e. its shape, contours or colour.
Before applying for a patent, it is advisable to carry out a patent search.
You don’t have to register your creative work or pay a fee to protect it with copyright. Your work is protected by law the very instant you create it.
It is wise to mark your work with the copyright symbol ©, your name and the year of first publication. Not only will this remind people that the work is protected and they need to contact you if they’re using your work in a way that breaches copyright, it will also give them a date from which they know the copyright period begins.
If you want to take this a step further, you can register your work’s existence with a solicitor, or an organisation that offers this as a service. This isn’t actually proof enough of you having created the work, nor that the work is original, but it can help prove in a court of law that you had the work in your possession on the date in the event of disputes relating to copyright.
You can also submit your work to a relevant registry, so that your work and its associated copyright information can be found by interested parties.
Consult a specialist or the European Copyright Office www.eucopyright.com for more detailed information.
A trademark or service mark includes any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods or services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods or services.
Registering a trademark for a company name is pretty straightforward. In some countries, you can file an application online in no time at all, without needing any assistance from a lawyer. Before completing an online registration form, check the relevant database to make sure another company hasn’t already registered an identical or similar mark for the same categories of goods or services you offer. If they have, your application will almost certainly be rejected.
Consult a Professional
If intellectual property is essential to your business success, as it usually is, it would be wise to consult a lawyer before you begin your crowdfunding campaign. There might be aspects to intellectual property laws in your country that’s really unintelligible to the layman (on his own), but that you need to understand before you proceed. As always in business, it’s best to look before you leap.
Choose Your Platform Carefully
Usually, with bigger crowdfunding platforms, you have to use that platform’s standard format for campaigns. With private crowdfunding sites, you have more choice about which information you share. This is an important consideration when choosing where to launch your campaign. The choice of crowdfunding platforms is already vast and the number of platforms will probably grow in the future. Of course in addition to intellectual property considerations there will be many other factors, which will influence your choice of crowdfunding platform to use.