Protect your intellectual property, no matter the size of your business

Getting patents and protecting trademarks may seem low priority in the flurry of starting a tech business, but it should be near the top of your list.

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This article is for information only. It is not legal advice.

Intellectual property (IP) is the lifeblood of any organization. For smaller organizations, it’s even more important. Careful handling of your company’s trademarks, patents and trade secrets can catapult you to global recognition. Protecting and developing best-in-class technologies could establish you as a market leader, attracting important clients.

Innovation is only half the equation of success. The other side is protecting your intangible assets, whether it’s inventions in-the-making or proprietary information that makes you competitive. These steps will help you translate IP protection into business advantage.

1.  Prioritize protecting your IP

When you’re starting out in business, it may seem unlikely someone would steal or copy your IP. But it happens more often than you might think.

In a 2019 poll by business and financial news network CNBC, one in five US companies said they’d had IP stolen in the past year. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates counterfeit and pirated goods made up 3.3 percent of global trade in 2019, up from 2.5 percent in 2013.

Start-ups and small businesses are no less affected and may feel the consequences of theft more. It’s crucial to start protecting your IP as soon as possible, for example, registering your trademark, applying for a patent or implementing technical and organizational measures to safeguard your secrets. If ever you need to defend or assert your rights as an IP owner, these steps will set you on the correct course of action. You’ll be able to defend your company against unfair competition better.

And there are further benefits. A patent means only you can use the invention for 20 years, giving your business ample time to take advantage of it.

Patented technologies give insight into your company’s expertise. Potential partners and clients often look to patents and other IP when deciding who to work with.

Patents convey innovative spirit not as mere statements but as concrete assets. They can open doors to investments and joint ventures.

2.  Get the IP professionals in

Legal specialists are vital in managing your IP. Integrated IP teams, for example, are critical in their companies, giving valuable insight into the innovation landscape.

Their deep knowledge about the company’s assets means they can decrease legal risk by adopting preventative measures during a company’s research and development. In patent infringement disputes, a good understanding of a patent’s history and language, and the legal system, will strengthen your defense.
intellectual property small business
IP experts’ tasks include giving information to marketing and development, researching prior use and drafting applications. They’ll also communicate with IP agencies and examine licensing agreements. All these activities add value to your IP and reduce risk of theft.

If you can’t afford an internal IP specialist, outsource applications to an attorney.

There are always costs. While it may be hard to find the money, keep in mind intangible assets are long-term investments. They advance, transform and sustain your business.

3.  Think big and act fast

Innovation happens fast. You have to be first to think, create and act. Even if a technology isn’t ready, consider patenting as early as possible.

Priority counts. Being first means exclusive rights, creating a competitive advantage that’s hard to put a price on.

Patenting enriches your understanding of your technology area, helping you imagine how a technology will work in the future. It may point you in certain directions to identify features of your invention.

At Kaspersky, we tell our product developers not to limit themselves to today’s technology parameters. Something that seems impossible now may be possible later. Thinking about how industries change gives inventors insight into wider trends, which could lead to whole families of lucrative patents.

4.  Remember cybersecurity

Cybercriminals are getting more interested in stealing and selling IP. Embed cybersecurity in your company’s IP activities. Patentable inventions under development, early-stage mark designs and supporting documentation, among other things, are all at risk of theft.

Robust and comprehensive cybersecurity will help protect your IP. There are tailored solutions for smaller businesses with limited resources, so you can focus on growth while having peace of mind about your security.

5. Fight patent trolls

Patent trolls, or non-practicing entities (NPEs,) are people with patents for inventions they don’t use. Often they aim to enforce their patent by sending ‘cease and desist’ letters to many companies or filing lawsuits against practicing companies. Targets sometimes settle the dispute with a large payout or buying licenses to the allegedly infringed patents.

If you find yourself dealing with an NPE, stay firm. NPE cases can drain company resources. For start-ups, the impact could be hard to overcome.

If you settle, your NPE problem may get bigger. Buying high-priced licenses or offering settlements can impede innovation because those resources could be used to grow the business instead. If you gain a reputation for never settling, it tells NPEs to steer clear.

Staying firm against NPEs can save you a lot in the long run. Payouts can be millions of dollars. Defending cases successfully means relieving that financial burden on the company. It also helps your industry because it’s likely NPEs are targeting others too.

As a business leader, no matter where you are in your journey from zero to hero, make sure you protect your IP from legal and cyber risks. It will make you more aware of industry trends and pave your way toward opportunities that will sustain and strengthen your work.

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About authors

Nadezhda Kashchenko is Kaspersky's Chief Intellectual Property and Antitrust Officer, VP and Deputy Chief Legal Officer. She has defended Kaspersky from hundreds of claims and is a member of several expert councils.