What Does a Patent Protect?

I come across a lot of inventors/entrepreneurs who want to protect their idea because that means they will immediately start making a lot of money. I wish that were the case for everyone, but the reality is very different. One thing is to protect your idea, and quite another is to develop the idea, create a product, make people in the world aware of your product and then convince them to buy it. There has been a lot of talk as of late about 'Unicorn Technologies', but I will get into that in another blog post. In short, this term refers to the fact that there are a LOT of startups in the tech space vying for both attention and funding. Very few break out and ultimately turn a major profit. These are the unicorns...

In order to embark on getting a patent you need to be aware of two things: (1) Is your technology actually patentable? and, (2) Do you have the funds to get a patent registered??

Lets start with patentability. In order for you to qualify for a patent there are certain requirements that need to be met. The technology needs to be non obvious and novel. What does this mean? In essence, on its face, a reader of your technology diagram should not be able to tell right off the bat what your technology does. It should be explained. Secondly, the technology has to be new. A part of this newness is that you have not talked about it to a lot of people. I have worked with several engineers and scientists who love to write White Papers and present at Conferences. The problem with doing this prior to filing a patent is that it potentially disqualifies you from doing so. If you talk about the technology in a public forum, then it is considered no longer NEW - and therefore you cannot obtain a patent. A lot of dreams have been shattered this way. Lastly, not all software technologies can be patented anymore. The USPTO has gotten a lot more strict, resulting in many entrepreneurs having to copyright their invention as opposed to getting a patent.

Many clients are floored when I tell them the general price of getting a patent. Anywhere between $15,000 - $25,000. Yeah, patents are not cheap so you better have funds available. When a client balks at the price tag, I always have the same response. Yes, you are paying a lot upfront but you are potentially monopolizing a technology for 20 years. During that time nobody can commercialize the technology except for you. That is a big deal. Your income potential could be in the millions, and you will look back at that initial 25K price tag and think it was not that big a deal.

What Is a Trademark Anyway?

Often there is confusion about what a Trademark really is. More importantly, there is confusion re what you do once you successfully register a trademark. Nothing? Au contraire mon frere - having a trademark is a big responsibility and you need to be vigilantly protecting your brand.

Once a company gets off the ground, often times they start to think, well maybe I should get a trademark now for my business name. First red flag: You don't just 'get a trademark'! It is a very lengthy and sometimes complicated process that ideally you should seek the assistance of an attorney to help you. IF you are successful in registering a trademark with the USPTO [www.uspto.gov] it can take anywhere from 9 - 12 months. During that time you are limited in what you can do to stop others from using your brand or selling counterfeit materials. Ideally you want to start the trademark process BEFORE you launch your business so that you are protected from Day One.

In essence, a trademark allows you to monopolize a word, phrase or logo for a period of 10 years. AND... you monopolize use of that word, phrase or logo ONLY for the goods and services that you list in your trademark application. In other words, if you own a software company then you can get a trademark for software related materials. That also means that someone else can use the same exact word to sell, shoes, for example. 

So why do you ask, is there more work to do once you get a trademark registration? Have you ever used the word 'Aspirin' or 'Escalator' in a conversation? Well, many years ago these were protected trademarks that have since become 'generic' in the English language. If you allow a trademark to become 'generic' you lose all rights to protecting that trademark. What this means is that you have to be vigilant about searching the Web for persons using your trademark and immediately send them notifications that you are the rightful owner.  If you allow it to get out of hand, only you are responsible for losing rights to that trademark.

Trademarks are powerful tools to build a brand. Contact me if you have any questions...

The Legal Guide For Start Ups

After so many years of working with clients, particularly those in the start up world, I realized that most of them were asking me the same questions. Seeking guidance and counsel on the same issues. In researching around, I noticed that there are a lot of Guides for Start Ups around, but nothing that really looks at what legal risks you take when starting a business. The other guides talk about how to create a pitch, how to do a pitch deck, how to secure funding, company culture, etc., but once you have the ball rolling on all of these things - then what do you do? Are you going to set up a company? Do you have Intellectual Property to protect? Do you have domain issues? Are there data privacy concerns you should address? 

I know that lawyers and the law can be a scary thing to deal with at times, but you need to look at risk mitigation and techniques on how to protect your business. Unfortunately, with success comes the potential of third parties wanting to take advantage of you. Don't let that happen.

Take a look at our Legal Guide For Start Ups and reach out to us should you have any follow up questions and/or would like to schedule a free 30 minute consultation. The guide can be found here:  www.bolimini.us/free-legal-tips/