When walking down the glass hallways of the Atlanta Tech Village, a popular question is, “how do entrepreneurs keep all their trade secrets and intellectual property (IP) secure?” My response is that every idea someone is working on can already be found on Google. Nowadays, it isn’t about coming up with a novel idea, rather, it’s about out-executing everyone else.
So, if ideas aren’t the value anymore, how does investing in protecting IP fit in with startups?
Here are a few thoughts on investing in IP in a startup:
- Paying for trademarks for company and product names is a no-brainer and an easy process (see the USPTO Trademarks site)
- Avoiding patents is what most software entrepreneurs do now due to the high costs and long lead time to get a patent issued (it’s typically tens of thousands of dollars and 3-5 years and to get one patent, and there are no guarantees it’ll work out)
- Filing a provisional patent is one way to start the process at a much lower cost than a full patent (again, most software entrepreneurs I know don’t bother with them)
- Requiring confidentiality agreements and using non-disclosure agreements is one of the most straightforward ways to protect trade secrets
Naturally, these recommendations will elicit a strong response from software entrepreneurs where patents were a big driver of their success. From my experience, most value is created via execution and not from intellectual property.
What else? What are some more thoughts on investing in protecting intellectual property?