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4 ways you can legally protect your tech start-up

4 ways to legally protect a tech startup blog post image

Many new entrepreneurs are very secretive of their new business idea. Their thinking is that if they were to share a business idea with others, they risk being copied. This is sometimes an unfounded fear and it is worth understanding how your startup can be legally protected and what options you have.

Can an idea for a startup be protected?

An idea itself cannot be protected under any intellectual property right. However  expressions of an idea can be protected, for example when they are artistic in nature, copyright could subsist. Examples of this include a painting, a poem or a song. A business idea itself is not considered an artistic work. This is why it cannot be protected as a copyright, but once you start building the business, if it requires original coding then you  could be copyright protected. The name under which a startup proposes to trade could be registrable as a trade mark, as another example.  Similarly, if the business idea consists of producing an innovative product then there is a potential to file a patent.

In what ways can my startup be protected?

Use a nondisclosure agreement (NDA)In cases where the business idea itself cannot be protected by an intellectual property right, as is often the case, an NDA can be used to prevent others from sharing or benefitting from the idea. Developers, employees and any others you share your idea with can be bound by an NDA. An NDA is a legal contract between two people that states what information will be shared between them and what information will not be shared with other people.

Some entrepreneurs have a policy of getting everyone to sign an NDA including investors. Some investors consider this to be an unnecessary step so it is advisable that you remain flexible when dealing with investors. They come across a large number of ideas and their intention is not to copy the ideas, only to judge their suitability for investment.

Read our blog post on 7 ways to legally protect your mobile phone app 

Start building your business and obtain copyright protectionAs with many tech startups, you will have to code it, which could attract copyright protection. If you are getting developers to do the work, then you can and should ask them to assign the copyright to you. Copyright protection arises automatically  in most countries and it is important to keep all records evidencing creation/authorship so that the copyright can be verified.

It is worth mentioning that open source frameworks and platforms (WordPress, Drupal etc.) are copyright of their creators and are available under specific creative licenses. If you to build any part of your startup using such open source tools, you will not be protected under copyright laws.

File a patent application if possibleA patent protects new inventions. In the UK and the EU, computer software programs are generally not patentable. There are exceptions to this rule, but you have to create a new method or process to obtain a patent. A software app or part of it may fulfil the necessary requirements to obtain patent protection. It is best to get advice from a patent attorney who can advise you on whether your tech startup is patentable.

If you are creating a new innovative product, then a patent is absolutely necessary so that you can financially exploit your product and stop others from making unauthorised use of it.

Register a trade mark for your brandIt is incredibly common to see the names and brands of successful startup ventures being used by others. Identical or similar names are considered trade mark infringement in certain circumstances and registering these as trade marks, assuming they fulfil the requirement of distinctiveness. A trade mark will make it easier to stop copycats in the markets you have filed your trade mark in. You can trade mark your name, logo, slogan and even a specific design. This is one important method of making sure your tech startup is protected from being copied by others. Especially your branding.

Having a tech startup can be hard work. Knowing how you can protect it is important. After all, you want to benefit from your hard work and not have to worry about being copied.

If you need help or advice about intellectual property (IP) protection for your startup, please contact us on 0207 791 9050 or email us on trademarks@freemanharris.co.uk

How to choose the right name for your business”?

Entrepreneurs choose a new business name

Your company name is important for a number of reasons, and can make a significant difference in terms of success. It can make your brand well known and that is something every company wants, as it drives traffic and sales.

So what does your name need to convey:

  • expertise
  • value
  • uniqueness of your product/service

Descriptive or Abstract Names

There is some controversy in opinion over whether your company name should be something abstract or something which clearly illustrates what your company is. And there is also controversy over whether either of those two lead to a more memorable or forgettable name. You should research what your audience will positively react to. Based on this, you can select an appropriate name for your business.

A company name is just the start. It needs to be promoted through a strong marketing strategy to develop and spread the word about the business and what it is you can offer. The term “branding”, which is now used, encompasses your company name, logo etc. and this helps advertising. Having a strong brand does make a difference and it is your brand that people remember, and that all starts with a name!

In today’s internet fuelled business world, there are new companies starting up regularly. Most of them tend to use very unique and original names. A more distinct a name, the better the brand recognition. When it comes to trade marks, you’ll have to have a uniquely different and new name in order to get a registered trade mark.

So, when coming up with a good name that needs to convey those three crucial aspects you definitely have a bit of a challenge ahead of you (unless you happen to have a product which easily lends itself to a name, or you are extremely creative!).

Using Naming Professionals

If you still struggle with finding a name, then you can choose to consult a “naming experts”. They can help you pick the right name for your business. This might be useful in competitive markets where most names are similar and you need something unique. Using this can come at a price though.

These are some top tips that you can find all over the internet on how to write a good name:

  • Choose a name that conjures up pleasant memories, which allows customers to respond to your business on an emotional level
  • Focus on what the business is about
  • Try to keep your name as short and straightforward as possible – confusing names are easy to forget!
  • See if you can get a name that appeals to you but also the customers you want to attract
  • Avoid using puns or private jokes that only you understand
  • Don’t use a string of letters or numbers as apparently this rarely works well for small businesses

Here are some other tips that can help you come up with an appropriate name for your business, but also enable you to be able to trade mark it.

Recommended Tips

Your company name should appeal to your target market. This will help lessen advertising costs required to explain the brand name. However, companies which using unique or made up words have had enormous success in recent years. The most popular example of this is Google. Unique and made up names create intrigue and that can itself bring about crucial conversations explaining your line of work. Feel free to use words that are not in the dictionary, this can be of benefit because these words have a good chance of being completely original and not trademarked yet. You can be creative with this and there are specialist companies who can help you come up with new words that resonate with readers due to the letter formations etc.

Try to avoid using place names in your company name unless it is a product relevant to that specific area. If it isn’t relevant to that specific area people from other places may not realize it has benefit to them, and could make branching out harder.

Having a trade mark is fundamental, so before signing off on your name, make sure it is available to trade mark. Speak to a lawyer or company specializing in trade marks and make sure that yours could work.

Equally, test the name out in general.  Would it look good on promotional material, does it work well with a logo, these are all things which lead to the complete brand package, and very often people trade mark multiple assets of their brand, so make sure they complement each other.

So to conclude, you will have no doubt spent a few weeks debating which name is most appropriate and made sure it fits your objectives. As stated before, a name is just the start, the marketing and promotion efforts will help get your name out there, but it is the first thing people notice so make sure it’s memorable.

Best of luck embarking on the challenge of finding a good name, it isn’t easy and we hope this information helps, but if you do need further help, do get in touch with us.

Why Your Startup Needs a Trade Mark?

A start-up lifting off by getting a trademark.

It’s hardly easy being a startup. There’s lots of competition and resources can be limited. But shouldn’t you be looking ahead and registering your trade mark? When you’re a startup, much of your time can be spent fine-tuning your product and perfecting your pricing. With so many things to juggle, it can be hard to turn your attention to your branding. But we all know that a well-known, well-loved brand is one of the most powerful business tools you can have.

Protecting your valuable assets

Just because you’re a new startup, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have valuable assets that need protecting. As soon as you are planning to invest in your branding and marketing, then your trade mark should be a priority. If you don’t protect your brand name (or it transpires that you have infringed someone else’s) then you may have to change your company name or trade mark further on down the line, which can be very damaging for business.

Everything you do as a startup is investing in your company’s name and goodwill. Registering a trade mark shows that you really believe you have something valuable and a reputation worth protecting. Registering a trade mark can also help you attract new investment. Potential investors will check if the company has a trade mark before they commit to you; having a trade mark shows you are serious and ambitious about the reach of your product or service.

Saving your startup from ‘trade mark trolls’

Registering a trade mark early in your business life also prevents you falling prey to ‘trade mark trolls‘. Trade mark trolls register a trade mark with no real intention of trading under it, but simply using the trade mark as leverage and a bartering tool to gain money from other companies. It is effectively trade mark squatting. If you fall victim to a trademark troll who is found to be acting in bad faith, you might not be forced change your name, but the legal fees can be very costly indeed. Startups and small-to-medium business are those most often targeted by trade mark trolls, and the cost of legal is fees is much more painful when relative to a small revenue. Prevalence of trade mark trolling is going up, with the cases in the US totalling 1401 in 2005, but jumping to 5842 in 2011, so now is a good time to protect your brand.

Having a unique brand name

Trade mark problems are not always so insidious. Sometimes, you might find that trade mark infringement can be totally incidental. Startups can have lots of competition. Make sure you’ve done your research and you’re not competing for brand name or identity, or you could be infringing on someone else’s trade mark by accident. In a business world with lots of competitors, it’s best to have a marketable brand that is unique to you. By registering a trade mark, you’ll create a distinct brand that is legally protected that ensures no other copycat startups exist. Remember that an unregistered trade mark, owning a URL or only registering a company name won’t give full protection to your brand against copycats.

What should you register as a trade mark?

There’s a number of things you should do as a startup before filing a trade mark registration. First, consider the part of your branding that you’d like to trade mark. Most usually, this will be your brand name, but it could be your logo, tagline or jingle. Once you’ve picked your distinctive element, run some checks to assure that no other companies are using the trade mark you want to sell their goods or services. Even if your mark is accidentally similar to another trade mark, you could run into legal trouble. Once your search has come back clean, you’re ready to file a trade mark registration claim.

Filing a trade mark can take some time, so you should start early in order to be protected effectively. The process of registering a trade mark generally asks for evidence from you about how you’re using the mark, though it’s not always a requirement. In many markets, if you don’t use a trade mark within 3 years you might not be able to retain it. Ideally, you’ll already have a fantastic product and a strong brand that’s ready to go onto the market within 3 years. Starting a new company is an exciting time when all creative cylinders are firing, so why not dream big and register a trade mark?