You have a great idea for a business product, a book, an awesome app, a unique design or some other creative project. Your golden ticket out of your 40-hour week, or maybe just a great side hustle that can earn you some extra money. You may be looking for ways to start working on it but you have one major fear holding you back – if you tell anyone about it or you don’t approach it strategically, someone may steal your idea and capitalize on your intellectual asset.
It’s a common fear among entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses, the looming idea that someone bigger and richer will realize the value of your idea and exploit it. Fortunately, these intangible ideas – the products, brands, designs, technology or creative works are intellectual assets that can be protected through intellectual property (IP) law and strategy. With the intellectual assets of the world’s biggest companies forming the majority of their asset portfolio and valued billions of dollars, IP protection and strategy has become a fundamental part of how business strategy, growth and expansion. The greater your understanding on how to identify the value in your intellectual asset and what steps to take to protect it, the greater your likelihood to succeed.
IP generally takes on three main forms: copyright, trademark and patents. Copyright covers literary, artistic, musical or dramatic works. This would apply to songs, books, poems, a ‘riddim’, a play, choreography etc. Trademarks refer to any sign, word, name, design that is used as an identifier of a good or service; and forms the basis of proper brand protection. Patents are for inventions – a new and useful process or technical creation or development.
So, how do entrepreneurs and creatives protect their intellectual assets?
- Create Intellectual Property Agreements
Coca-Cola, the 4th most valuable brand in the world has famously kept their recipe a secret for over a century without the use of any of the statutory protections listed above but by securing their trade secrets with IP agreements and being tight-lipped.
While, not every idea or product can be protected in the same way, IP agreements are an important tool for protecting your intellectual assets. If you are creating, building, innovating or even brainstorming, no employee, contractor, colleague or potential investor should come into contact with your idea before first signing a confidentiality agreement or a non-disclosure. Though this doesn’t provide ironclad security against the exploitation of your idea or product, it does identify the proprietary nature the information being disclosed, offers some safety and deters persons from talking about your project with unauthorized persons or copying it.
Where employees and contractors have worked on your idea or project, you must ensure that they have also signed an IP assignment and a non-compete. The IP assignment makes it vehemently clear that all the work being done is at your commissioning and any end product, including any IP interest therein, belongs to you. This is often overlooked by companies and individuals and may result in the employee or contractor being recognized as the creator and owner of the work under law. The non-compete protects you from the employee working with and disclosing your IP to a competitor. While there are some limitations with a non-compete, when used with other IP strategies, it can assist in protecting you from direct competition.
- Visit the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO)
JIPO is the government agency mandated for the administration IP systems in Jamaica. Included in their mandate is spreading awareness on IP rights and helping individual creators, innovators on small businesses create wealth through acquiring and protecting their IP rights. There, you can pay for searches of their database to find out whether your product or idea has already been registered and you can get free pamphlets and additional information on IP rights.
Where you would like to register you trademark, patent or design, these systems are also administered through JIPO. They also have a voluntary copyright registration system, that copyright owners are encouraged to utilize in protecting their creative works. Obtaining formal registration of your IP right not only allows you to produce your idea in a tangible format, but it can also be a form of validation of your product to potential customers and investors.
- Be the first or the best.
Having intellectual assets and registering IP is one thing, but protection also comes through dominating a market. Being the first to market can come as a huge advantage, as you can create brand loyalty as the market leader. While this is true but not always the case, being the best in the market by continuing to innovate and building on your idea or product can also give you competitive advantage and market dominance.
Over time your idea or your product may change, and so will the value of your intellectual assets. It’s important to constantly review your IP portfolio, assess what’s new and proprietary while keeping abreast of developments in your field. Being cognizant of the value of your most valuable assets while making informed decisions to improve your productivity, efficiency and market influence.
Author: Kellye-Rae Fisher Campbell ESQ. Attorney-at-Law and Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US)