When you’re neck deep in starting a new business, you may not take the time to properly protect your inventions. As a result, you could see your intellectual property stolen or you could be sued for inadvertently stealing the intellectual property of others. Here are five easy tips on how to quickly develop an intellectual property strategy, specifically with respect to patents.
1) Give each team member an information disclosure form
The first key step to getting a patent is identifying ideas that are potentially novel and inventive. Discovering and understanding your employees’ inventions as early as possible will enable your patent lawyer to draft earlier applications with more accurate and comprehensive disclosures, which means stronger patents. Circulating an information disclosure form to your team will help your startup learn about technology being created internally.
2) Carefully review employment and independent contractor agreements
Review your startup’s employment and independent contractor agreements. Make sure that your employees and contractors have an obligation to assign their rights in any inventions that they develop in the course of their work to your startup. It may be difficult for your startup to obtain a patent on an invention, particularly if the employee or contractor involved no longer works for your startup, if their agreements don’t explicitly obligate them to hand over the rights to those inventions.
3) Create a team to quickly review new inventions
Because filing for a patent for a piece of technology is expensive, you need to figure out whether these new developments are worth patenting. When forming a team, include a diverse set of people in this discussion — someone from management, engineering, marketing, and sales. Because marketing and sales folks are often the first to disclose new inventions outside the company, it is important to keep them in the loop on patents. Contact your patent lawyer when your patent team agrees that a particular development is worth patenting. Then, your patent lawyer can determine whether it is indeed patentable and, if it is, can prepare and file a patent application.
4) Keep all of your documents organized
Once you have started to seek protection for your patentable inventions, it is essential to keep everything organized so that you know what intellectual property your startup has created. That means keeping copies of your intellectual property-related documents (e.g., the information disclosure forms, employment and contractor agreements for inventors named in your patent applications, issued patents, technology licenses and other contracts) in a dedicated, organized business file. This can be as simple as a folder on your computer or in a sophisticated document management system. Just having all this information within easy reach will make it easy for you when a potential investor wants the due diligence on your IP.
5) Incentivize team members to innovate
Consider giving members of your team some encouragement to think about whether their work is also generating patentable inventions for your startup. You may want to consider providing your team members with some kind of financial incentive, such as a bonus that is paid when a patent application is filed and the invention is granted a patent.
Jay Mandal and Nitin Gupta are co-founders of LawPivot, a question-and-answer service for legal advice.
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