Some start-up companies have a definite idea that they want to bring to market. This is their intellectual property and their first task must be to ensure that this idea is protected by a patent or copyright. Some start-up companies may not be aware that they have intellectual property but there may be some knowledge or process they use that should be protected by a patent. The company may also use a name or logo that should be protected as a trademark. A review of intellectual property and how it is to be protected must be one of the first tasks of a start-up company.
To be patented an invention must be new in the sense that the idea was not known until the date on which the application for a patent was filed. It must be inventive, containing an element of innovation rather than being an obvious development of an existing product or idea. The invention must also be capable of industrial application, so there must be an industry where it can be used.
If these conditions are fulfilled then it is a wise move to apply for a patent, to ensure that compensation can be claimed if imitators use the idea without permission. One of the big problems for many start-ups is that their idea can often be easily imitated by competitors and they can be driven from the market by new enterprises copying their idea. Applying for patent protection helps to guard against this possibility. In some cases a number of different patents may be required to cover the ideas used by the company. Advice should be sought on this subject from a suitable agent.
Many start-ups are formed to make a particular product. Where the start-up company is to make products with an innovative appearance the design of the products, for example the visual appearance of the product or a part of it, can be protected by a design right. In the case of a product whose appearance is important for its marketing the company should consider a registered design to protect the look of the product.
Many start-up companies in creative industries may need to obtain a copyright or a number of copyrights to protect their work. A copyright can protect original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work that is written or recorded. The company can then allow other businesses to use their copyright for a royalty or license fee and eventually they could make further money by selling the copyright.
If applying for a patent or copyright the company must ensure that the coverage is wide enough. The company may not immediately be thinking globally but if some products are being exported a patent covering more than just the UK may be necessary. Some intellectual property must be protected by a patent in the European Union, but in some cases a patent is necessary for a non-EU country, or an international patent could be considered. The start-up company should take advice on this at an early stage.