Crowdfunding is a great way to raise money for startups. Platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Taiwan-based Flying V and Zec-zec, all promote entrepreneurial spirit by providing exposure, market testing and access to people with money. However, launching a crowdfunding campaign also releases a lot of sensitive information. For example, potential competitors can scout successful campaigns on Kickstarter and immediately go to a factory to copy it. There are many horror stories such as an Israeli entrepreneur who saw the design for his innovative selfie-stick copied even before he himself had gone to production.
Surely it happened that investors pitched in a private room stole ideas back in the good ol’ days too, but crowdfunding by its very nature is public and disperses your ideas far and wide. It is therefore advisable for entrepreneurs to create a well thought-out intellectual property strategy for things like patents, designs and trademarks BEFORE launching their campaigns.
Patents and Designs
Patents for inventions or designs exist to give innovators time to profit from their investments, to reward them for being innovative. The rules says that once you have made an invention public, it often can’t be patented. This means that if you go on a crowdfunding site and proudly explain to the world that you have a new innovative thingy and how it works, you might enable someone else to have that “a-ha, duh, of course!” moment and make it possible for them to legally copy before you have a chance to make it reality.
Filing for patents is not cheap, but if you have come up with something really innovative that might sell like hot cakes, you should raise the money to be safe.
Another very important service that a patent lawyer would do for you is to make sure you are not infringing on someone else’s patent. As bad as it would be to have someone steal your invention, bringing a product successfully to market just to have another company swoop in and demand all your profit would probably feel even worse.
Trademarks work a bit different from patents. In some countries like the US simply publicly using a mark gives you a certain level of ownership rights. But since it might be hard to prove who used a mark first it is always safer to file for trademark protection. In other countries like Taiwan, the rule is “first to file” meaning that whoever hand in their application to the government first will own the rights to use the mark. This makes it very dangerous to go public with a brand new beautiful brand without protecting it first. Plus, filing for a trademark is relatively affordable, so it is really not worth the risk.
As with just about everything else in this day and age, an easy way to find out if there are potential infringement is through a simple Google search. If there is anyone using similar words, symbols, or images that might potentially confuse a consumer, that might be a point for rejection. Read our article about how to come with a good brand that can qualify for trademark protection.
Then for more detailed searches of government databases, consult a trademark agent. They can also help you identifying pitfalls and giving you ideas on trademark strategies. Just think about the future costs if you receive a ‘cease and desist’ letter saying that you are infringing on somebody else’s trademark. In such a situation, you might not have any choice besides to re-brand.
Kickstarter’s trademark policy mirrors that of the Taiwan Intellectual Property Office. If they find out that your brand might cause confusion among consumers, then they consider it trademark infringement and a violation of Kickstarter’s trademark policy. Crowdfunding is a great way to test your ideas and gather feedback, but remember that you are building for the long-term, and make sure to protect your future.
MUSA Trademark consults with startups and business owners in crafting a strong trademark strategy. Contact us today.