Monday, July 25, 2011

Lesson #70: Protect Your Intellectual Property

Intellectual property includes all human-built assets of your business, from your company name, logo, content, technology, contracts or any other proprietary trade secrets of your business.  It is often the lifeblood of any startup, and should be protected, as you would protect any other assets of your business.

Right from the start, you should file a trademark for your company name and logo, that prevents others from using the same name or logo in your space (including a clear TM mark on your logo).  And, if you are producing a lot of content, for use on your website or otherwise, you should make sure that it is copyrighted, to prevent others from re-publishing your hard work, as their own (including a clear copyright mark in the footer of your website).  And, when budgets can afford such, consider getting patents filed for your unique inventions or processes, to prevent others from claiming such inventions or processes as their own.

A couple interesting case studies from iExplore, as it relates to intellectual capital.  One hurt us, and one benefited us.  The one that hurt us was when iExplore went to expand into Australia and we could not secure a trademark because a similar adventure travel business, called iXplore, had been in business and filed a trademark before us.  This was particularly troublesome since iXplore's business was in trouble, impacting their customer experience and reputation.  Which ultimately rubbed off on iExplore in the U.S., with the iXplore customers calling us at iExplore for refunds for trips we had nothing to do with.  So, make sure you research and file for trademarks in all countries you plan on operating right from the start, to prevent issues like this happening to your startup.  It may be useful to re-read Lesson #24 on How to Choose a Name for Your Startup to make sure you are covered here.

The second case study was where our trademark helped us.  There was a company that was trying to "piggyback" on the iExplore name, by launching travel websites like iexploreegypt.com, iexploreturkey.com and iexploregreece.com, including a logo that looked very similar to our own.  Here too, customers were getting confused, thinking they were buying from us, but were not.  We sent a cease and desist letter and threatened a lawsuit, and amicably resolved the situation, making them change their logo, feature their company name in the header (not iExplore), and clearly state they were not affiliated with iExplore on their About Us page.  So, make sure you keep an eye out at all times, for potential competitors trying to piggyback on your success.

As for protecting your other intellectual property, I suggest you re-read Lesson #56 on Frequent Legal Questions of Startups, which has a section on patents and protecting all employee work as company inventions.  In addition, please re-read Lesson #60 on The Importance of Employee Handbooks, which has a section on getting all employees signing acknowledgement that they are hired on a "work for hire" basis, and all work is the property of the company.  And, re-read Lesson #41 on Security Considerations for Your Startup for other things to consider for protecting your facility and digital files related to your intellectual property.

For future posts, please follow me at:  www.twitter.com/georgedeeb

No comments: