Intellectual Property or IP is the thing that defines your business – the one brilliant idea that makes you a gamechanger in the industry and could be worth millions of big ones.
Imagine this, your product is a phenomenal piece of technology and in order to seek an investor, in your gullibility you have happily shared all the finer details of how it works. Suddenly, you realise that the potential investor decides that he no longer wants to take this forward with you because he has already created a clone-worthy replica of your product.
In another scenario, you and your creative team have come up with a catchy name for your product, replete with an even catchier tag line and snazzy logo. Again, in your excitement and gullibility, you skipped the part of registering your trademark and lo and behold, to everyone’s (or no one’s) surprise, a near to identical rendition is being used by another company. What’s more, they have registered their trademark, thus making you look guilty of IP theft.
Now these are very believable scenarios and I am sure you will meet a lot of budding entrepreneurs like you who can bitterly recount the time their idea was stolen away.
At the risk of sounding too harsh, I truly believe that if that happens, the only fault is your own because your business is your baby and it is your job to protect it.
A lot of people might argue that investors have a lot at stake and they will never risk their reputation and steal someone’s idea, no matter how brilliant it is. My response to them is that let us be realistic; who in this dog-eats-dog world can resist a great idea that can bring in crores, just sitting there, vulnerable and unprotected.
So here are my top 5 recommendations on how you can prevent one of these scenarios to happen to you:
- Trademark, Patent, Copyright and other legalities
Legally, there is no limit to how much you can protect your business and no amount of vigilance can be enough. Initiate this process early in setting up your business through a reputed IP counsel.
Also, do not forget that these legalities are a continuous process and come with an expiry date, thus making renewals just as important.
The Startup India initiative by the Government of India has a scheme called the Startups Intellectual Property Protection or SIPP to help protect the innovations and ideas of entrepreneurs of this country. By registering with them, you have access to registered agents of trademark/patent/design who will facilitate the process for you.
- Non-disclosure agreements
As a new business owner, you must certainly get excited about people taking an interest in your business. But you do not know who and how can someone take advantage of that and leave you high and dry.
Get your legal counsel to draft NDAs for your associates, suppliers, creative agencies and anyone you come in contact with to work on your product. Do not shy away from that.
The only people who might give you a hard time about it are your potential investors since the ball is pretty much in their court. But there is no harm in trying and if they say no, just find alternatives like putting your trademark on the business plan or placing a note of confidentiality before it.
- Create a paper trail
Document everything about your start-ups ideas and products, in near real time if possible. I also suggest that you keep a log of every discussion you have on your business and what all was brought up there. Minutes of the meeting are a simple way of ensuring documentation.
- Be cautious and do your homework
Nearly all of us usually have an inner voice that tells us what to do even when the current situation looks perfectly normal, like nothing could go wrong.
I honestly believe you should always go with your instinct in such situations. For example, why does someone want to know so much about your venture, down to the last micro detail. Is he/she looking to invest, is generally curious or is thinking about how to steal it?
Now I am not asking you to become paranoid, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. Remember, it is perfectly okay to say, “I would prefer not to disclose that,”.
Also, research the people you are engaging with for business or investment. Speak to people in the market and try and find out if they have ever been involved in idea theft or copyright infringements.
- Avoid infringement of other IPs
Before you launch your product, it will be worthwhile to do some research to double check that you are not infringing someone else’s efforts, unknowingly of course.
If something does come up during your research, even if it is something as small as a logo design, take corrective measures immediately. Trust me it is not worth the legal drama and since you are just starting out, it would be easier for you to go back to the drawing board and start afresh.
American Angel Investor Esther Dyson once said, “Owning the intellectual property is like owning land: You need to keep investing in it again and again to get a payoff; you can’t simply sit back and collect rent.”
Remember, more than anything else, taking the above steps will help you in getting peace of mind that you have done your best to ensure that your business is protected.