March 2018
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Patents, IP, and Protecting the Recipe for Your Secret Sauce

No matter what you do, know that protecting your IP is an active process. 

It is surprising how many people actually believe that a patent will protect their intellectual property. A patent is a perfectly good tool, but it does no good all by itself. There is no ever vigilant force of superheroes standing guard over the intellectual property of the world, but people seem to act as if such an organization exists. The reality is that nobody cares whether your IP is being stolen until you do.

So you want to protect your intellectual property?

Your first question ought to be ‘why?’. The answer might not be immediately obvious. Sometimes we like our ideas so much that we fall in love with them. This passion can be good, if it helps you convince customers to buy your product. It can be bad if the effort you devote to protecting it from being copied distracts you from other potentially more profitable tasks like getting it to market or correctly analyzing its strengths and its weaknesses.

A few reasons for protecting your IP

Thomas Mathiasen of Danish Intellectual Capital Management points out that, “if something is of value, it’s worth protecting”, and patents have great potential value. It may indeed be of paramount importance for you to secure your rights and ensure that they are not infringed upon by others.

In short, patents can:

  • provide the means of getting a legal monopoly,
  • demonstrate the competence or knowledge of the company, or
  • target competitors.

But whether they are the right tool for you depends on several things.

Where does IP protection fit in your strategy?

Remember that protecting your IP means much more than keeping other people from copying it. The best technology in the world is not going to make you any money if no one is using it. Allowing other firms to copy the technology was key to helping VHS beat Betamax.

Perhaps all you want to do is register that you had the idea first, so that no one can make you pay for using it. Perhaps a monopoly strategy is exactly what you need. Be explicit about what you need IP protection to enable you to do.

What does the threat look like?

Direct competitors might be interested in your intellectual property, but others might have an interest as well. Talk to all of your staff to see where the threat might come from. The answer to who might steal your IP can be unexpected. How you go about making your special sauce may be just as interesting as the sauce itself.

How can your IP be stolen?

Your IP can walk out the door any number of ways. Former employees and contractors can walk away with copies. Poor IT-security can leave the door open for intruders. Others may reverse engineer your product – or simply read your patent application.

Where will the most likely threat come from?

Too many people fail to think this question through, but it is vital, because working out how your IP can be stolen allows you to focus the task of protecting it. As mentioned, involving your whole staff can help. IP does not walk away by itself, someone takes it. Usually you can figure how they do it. If you are proactive, you can do it before your IP gets stolen.

How do you protect your IP?

The answer can be complicated, but your first task is to analyze your own needs and the threat to your IP. Answering these key questions can get you started:

  • Why do you want to protect your IP?
  • Where does IP protection fit in your strategy?
  • What does the threat look like?
  • How can your IP be stolen?
  • Where will the most likely threat come from?

There’s More to Protecting Your IP than Getting a Patent

Fear not! The issue can be complicated, but there are experts like Thomas Mathiasen who can help you. Help with how to answer some of these questions is also on the way here. Watch this space.

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