PLAN Now, So You Can PROTECT Later!
Intellectual property attorneys frequently think "if my client had just taken time on the front end to protect their IP, they could have avoided this." In today's fast-paced world, people start businesses on a whim, yet few consider protecting their business's intangible assets. Fewer understand the value of investing in sound legal advice prior to starting their business. These would-be entrepreneurs often have dreams of being "bought out" after their business takes off, then cannot understand why the buyout is such a tangled mess.
Of all aspects of a business or pursuit, intellectual property is the most valuable. Assets can be replaced, and labor can be trained; but ideas, brands, designs, secrets, and other intangible assets of a business, if not properly protected, can be the root cause of business failure.
ALL Pursuits Involve Intellectual Property
Intellectual property concerns are not limited to business ventures. Whether it's a for-profit business, artistic work, book, new invention, or an idea to improve a simple task, all pursuits touch upon some form of intellectual property, be it trademark, copyright, patent, trade secret, contractual property rights, or use of likeness.
These intellectual property concerns should be handled long before assuming any risk or sharing the IP to others. If not properly handled, your rights to own, maintain exclusivity with, or even use, your intangible asset, could be severely compromised.
Be able to answer the following questions before engaging in your pursuit.
- In what ways is my pursuit protectable?
- Is someone already engaged in the same pursuit, or has it been done before? If so, what are my risks by continuing?
- Can someone else claim rights or ownership to all, or part, of this pursuit?
- How do I protect my pursuit from those who would usurp it?
- What do I do if someone copies or steals my pursuit?
- Is my pursuit worth the cost of protection?
- What do I have in place to provide such protection?
Depending on the particular area of intellectual property, Federal and State laws may provide answers to those questions. There may also be required procedures or recommended best practices that you must initiate prior to gaining your protection.
Proper planning not only gives you peace of mind about your pursuit, it makes your pursuit more attractive to those who might exchange value for it. The most obvious example is a for-profit business that has experienced rapid success…if its intellectual property is secured, an investor will know 1) there is less risk in acquiring the business, and 2) since the business owner knew what they were doing, the business is likely to continue its history of success and growth.
So You Can PROTECT Later.
Intellectual property disputes typically do not arise until there is some measure of success or value. However, by the time that moment comes, it may be too late to protect your intangible asset appropriately, resulting in additional cost, lost opportunity, and maybe even losing the asset itself.
Some types of intellectual property protection require time to vest. For example, a non-distinct trademark may require time in commerce to become associated with a particular good. Other types are ripe for theft without recourse. For example, a trade secret not properly secured may be fair game. Finally, others may require affirmative steps to gain any protection (copyright being in a tangible medium) or specific types of protection (registration of a copyright or a trademark).
Until you have spent time with an attorney understanding the nuances, risks, and pre-requisites of a particular type of intellectual property, you are essentially throwing caution to the wind and putting your entire pursuit at risk. Do not wait to safeguard your pursuit.