Early actions for startups to protect your interests

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1. Establish agreements from the very beginning for employees, founders, subcontractors and, most importantly, for any person working on product development to clearly define the company’s ownership of any IP generated; confidentiality agreements are critical and always avoid verbal agreements

2. Simple Google searches can avoid selecting company and product names that will clash with existing businesses; your lawyer can also search trademark databases and corporate registration systems to confirm availability of proposed names

3. Patents can protect processes, products, systems as well as physical appearance / function and can cover hardware, software, apps to (ideally) block competitors completely or force them to more expensive, less elegant solutions, but obtaining them takes time so starting early helps

4. While you can file patent applications yourself, there are pitfalls that can destroy or limit your rights; so it is critical to engage early with professional support

5. Not all IP requires immediate expenditure, but some events can be absolute and catastrophic in patents so engage professional assistance early to be clear about potential issues and understand what may or may not be protected about your invention or concept; for example, outside of North America, disclosing an invention before filing an initial patent application destroys the ability to secure an enforceable patent

6. Social media is now more important than a killer domain because there are so many domain extensions; secure these yourself: company name and product name in all social media; for a couple of hours of time spent registering, you can save a lot of pain

7. Understand what others, including your competitors, have established rights to or are trying to establish rights to

8. Be conscious of the fact that information will become accessible immediately to clients and competitors about your actions in most instances, for example, when you incorporate, apply for trademarks, establish domains, secure government contracts, establish yourself on social media

If you’re a startup or tech company with IP related questions, contact Adrian C. O’Donnell, a patent specialist in the Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall Business Law Group. He can be reached at 613.566.2858 or aodonnell@perlaw.ca