SETsquared Blog

IP Strategy for Start Up Companies

One of the most important issues for technology-based start up companies, is what strategy they should follow to protect the Intellectual Property (IP) they own?

Among the first questions raised by companies joining a SETsquared Business Acceleration Centre is “How do businesses tread the wire between promotion and protecting their IP”?  Obviously every company has to promote its services as widely as possible but always promote performance data and not the underlying know-how.  Always seek to put a non-disclosure agreement in place for any detailed discussion. Don’t forget; if you file a patent then once it has been published (18 months from filing) the world can see the details of your innovation.

If you are looking to patent a discovery or invention then the Examiner who will assess your application after it has been filed will search for existing patents filed (both current and expired) that constitute ‘prior art’ and would prevent you getting a patent.  They will search publications, conference notes and for any other evidence that your patent may not be original.  A search of patents can be done online eg: -

http://www.freepatentsonline.com
http://www.google.com/patents
http://www.patent.gov.uk/
http://ep.espacenet.com/?locale=en_EP
http://www.uspto.gov/

Many patent agents will offer a free initial consultation on protecting your IP and whether to patent.  They should talk you through the basics of your technology.  Is it novel?  Is it innovative?  Is it commercially valuable?  The discussion – and your deliberations should also focus upon how long the window of opportunity is for your product and how big the market is?  The patenting process can represent a major investment for any company and you need to be sure that the cost is justified by the returns.

The rule of thumb is that if you have a component (part of a wider technology) then protect IP if it is critical to your business and it is possible to identify whether it could be infringed. If you have a method/process then protect IP if it is critical to your business and it is possible to identify whether it could be infringed, or if it is not possible to achieve the same end result by a similar method/process (in a similar cost/time). If necessary, you must be prepared to defend your patent application in court against third party infringement.

Review your strategy and decisions at regular intervals in line with investment needs and building value to sell the company

The Patent Box initiative brings additional considerations for companies operating in the UK and raises the question of where else in the world you should file patents to protect your IP.  Your major markets of course must be considered but again ask your patent agent for a full estimate of costs.

Have you gone through the patent dilemma? Do you agree? What advice would you give a tech start up?