The appropriate preparations can make a huge difference in achieving comprehensive intellectual property (IP) protection. There are a few ongoing actions you can take to set yourself up for success. Try incorporating the following actions into your IP regime:
Establish Consistent Intake Procedures
Not every organization consistently ensures that knowledge workers are executing strong protective documents at every stage of innovation. Positions where compliance is critical include your own employees and contractors, as well as innovation partners. Nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) must be provided in many scenarios, such as joint ventures, collaborations with outside developers, and company acquisitions. The last thing you want is for an otherwise strong patent application to be negated or downstream profits to be redirected because of weaknesses in your upfront protection processes.
NDAs help prevent scenarios that lead to application rejections and can at least help your business recover some portion of your losses in the event of a leak. They should be administered to any party involved with any innovation project or discussion. The strongest NDAs are going to be crafted with consistency and approved by experienced legal counsel. The intake regime should also include, where appropriate, the following agreements:
- Noncompete (i.e. don’t unfairly compete with me based on what you learned here)
- Nonsolicitation (i.e. don’t poach my employees)
- Invention assignment (i.e. who owns what you create?)
Maintain Records for Prior Art
Not every invention is going to be fresh and original. In many cases, your innovation team is going to be improving on a previous project. New features won’t be included in the original patent and still need protection. When setting up the new patent application, you can and should rely on your original designs to support your new innovations and contribute to the completeness of the final submission.
Patent searches are a fundamental part of any new project, as well. While a corporate team can perform these searches on their own, it’s often wise to rely on outside counsel or professional search firms. Firms specializing in patent searching tend to have archives of their own that they can rely on to source art, plus plenty of experience with what the patent office will be looking for. Patent attorneys will make sure the right information is present at submission time.
Take a “Belt & Suspenders” Approach
Don’t overlook the availability of additional if not alternative forms of protection for the valuable business assets you create. Elements that most people identify as part of a business’s brand, such as a logo, tagline, or some combination of phrasing and design, require protection via trademark. Copyrights, another protection, can preserve originality of expression not just in the creative arts (e.g., music, film, photography), but also in web site content, white papers, brochures, investor presentations, computer source code, and many other forms of expression. And finally, trade secrets are of course protectable assets in and of themselves, but only if you take care to treat them as secrets. At a minimum, this means being constant and consistent with stamping truly valuable secrets as confidential and restricting access to them. This applies to internal invention disclosures and even pertains to pending patent applications, which, prior to their publication by the patent office, should still be maintained as trade secrets.
Perform IP Audits to Strategically Cover Your Gaps
While your attention may be focused on conditioning the next invention disclosure for a patent application, it’s important to check the condition of your existing assets. Have new products been introduced to the market that encroach on your IP portfolio? Could one of your products be used in a different way - one that your current patent doesn’t cover? Regular analysis of your inventory will help you to make sure you’re fully protected.
In addition, IP audits will help you to pick out which of your IP assets are the most fruitful. Analyzing what marketable opportunities are available and checking licensing returns or financial performance will help you make faster decisions now, and inform your strategic plans moving forward.
IP audits are important for many reasons, yet they’re limited because they’re only snapshots in time. Regular and real-time visibility into the moving parts of, say, your invention disclosure activities will provide an instant ability to course correct at any sign of alarm. Knowing how far along a particular idea is can help you assess timelines and prioritize certain activities. There may be efficiency advantages to skipping a step or two in the review process, for example, but timeline advances may be at the expense of the likelihood of a successful patent application. Monitoring your innovation productivity and team actions can help you make weigh those decisions with great effect.
Partner with Expert Outside Counsel
Some organizations are equipped to handle IP protection mechanisms completely on their own. Most internal legal professionals can certainly help you establish NDAs and perform preliminary reviews for your IP. Beyond that, it’s typically helpful and efficient to partner with outside counsel. External lawyers will have additional background in a particular subject area in addition to their IP expertise. They can leverage that to take an unbiased assessment of your patent application, gauge its strength, and make recommendations for improvement.
Do you have everything you need to protect your IP? Adequate protection can make all the difference for your company’s success. Take, for example, how asset protection has been used to great effect for products like Viagra and the Koosh ball. Learn more about their stories in a free eBook from IAG - click here to download it now.