It’s a classic scenario. You’ve got a great concept and you’ve talked about it with people in your network. Is it a go? There’s nothing else like it on the market.
Stop. You may have just made a very large mistake that could derail your plans.
“Lots of companies effectively give away their good ideas before they’ve even decided if they’re worth protecting,” says patent attorney Jonathan Lucas of James & Wells.
“It’s critical to keep ideas confidential – both from a legal perspective as well as simply avoiding telling people outside your organisation – until you’ve properly assessed the idea and decided whether there is value in protecting its intellectual property, or IP.”
Jonathan heads James & Wells’ Auckland and Hamilton patents teams. He specialises in drafting patent specifications, prosecuting patent applications, handling patent oppositions, providing opinions and supporting patent litigation for many local and multi-national companies. He also heads the James & Wells’ team specialising in medical technology.
“The most important thing is to understand the different ways IP can be used, and to decide which will help you achieve your commercial objectives. IP protection ranges from registered rights like patents, trademarks and designs, to unregistered rights like copyright, trade secrets and know-how.”
IP can also be used in different ways – to create licensing opportunities, as a defensive tool, or to create more assets that add value to a business.
Jonathan says there are some forms of IP, where once the idea is no longer confidential, it can never be protected.
RimPro-Tec is a good example of a Kiwi company that has used IP effectively, while facing battles along the way. It invented a cool looking product to protect rims on a car wheel.
“They got a clear understanding of their IP position early on and obtained an impressive portfolio of patent and trademark rights around the world. They put distribution channels in place and started selling internationally.
“Then, poor quality knock-offs from China started popping up. Concerned about the impact on their reputation of these poor-quality products, they successfully enforced their IP rights in China, something few people believe is possible, but it shows the increasing value China is placing on intangible assets.”
Jonathan’s advice for start-ups is quite simple. Start-ups need to be as clear as possible about what they’re trying to achieve, understand the tools available to help them succeed and get the right advice.
By Prue Scott