You want to impress the jury and potential investors. To this end, you pitch and present all of the innovative aspects of your project or business. At such an event, it is essential to take preliminary measures to protect your creation/invention/idea, which is your intangible capital, i.e. your intellectual property (IP). Be careful, the disclosure of certain information may be an obstacle to the future protection of your idea. The following measures can be very simple and inexpensive to execute, but must always be done prior to any disclosure.
(Author: Roberto d’Erme, Distinctive / Image Credit: Edu Lauton)
For all the technical aspects, it is important to assess patentability with a patent attorney. If your creation meets the conditions for filing a patent, it is suggested to file the patent application before publicly disclosing the details of the invention. In general, the disclosure of an invention before filing a patent application is an obstacle to its patentability because the disclosure is then considered part of the state of the art. If you have not yet filed a patent application, you may nevertheless disclose some innovative aspects, which will not jeopardize the novelty of your invention. However, patentable aspects of your invention must be kept secret until the day of the patent application filing. An IP lawyer can help you figure out which aspects of your invention are patentable and should remain confidentialFinally, if you must disclose your invention to a potential investor or a business partner before filing a patent application, it is important to get a confidentiality agreement signed. Note that methods of doing business included within the software cannot be patented as such.
Tip: Regarding patenting business methods, it can actually be strategic not to file a patent application, as filing has the effect of disclosing the invention. When you file, a business method that could have been kept secret will be revealed and third parties can thus reinvent around your idea, decreasing its value.
Startups must protect their distinctive signs, such as the name, trademark (verbal and/or logo), designs and domain names. The name is recorded in the national business registers upon registration of the company. The brand is the sign that distinguishes the company’s products and services. It could take the same form as the name. However, often it differs because the use of the brand is different than the use of the name. To be a registered trademark, the mark must be distinctive, available and not contrary to public order. If you have not filed your trademark before the presentation of your project, you’ll run the risk that a third party, attracted by its originality, applies for a trademark before you. This could block your project and force you to spend additional time and money. The domain name is used to identify the website through which the brand operates. It is for this reason that most often it is the same as the brand name. After checking availability, the domain name must be booked with the competent authority.
Tip: Pay attention to the use of marks on the Internet because the use of marks online could lead to the violation of rights of third parties on trademarks in another country!
Literary, aesthetic and artistic elements
All creation, be it design, an invention, a model, a song, a story or a prototype, may contain literary, aesthetic and artistic aspects. Copyright and the design patents help ensure their protection. Copyright arises automatically when the creation takes shape, provided that the work is original. Copyright does not need to be registered with an IP office to exist. The design right protects the ornamental or aesthetic aspect of an object and can arise in two contexts: you can file for protection at an IP office, or you can make your design public without filing, which is the so-called “right of the unregistered model.” For this purpose, the Benelux Office for IP offers the i-DEPOT, a tool that can prove the existence of a creation on a specific date. However, the i-DEPOT does not issue any IP rights and does not offer protection, an official stamp of the registrar or a notarial deed.
Tip: Although copyright and design and unregistered design patents do not require filing, it is very important to have evidence of the date of their creation or existence in case a legal conflict arises.
This article was first published in SILICON