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IP protection for startups — 4 ways to protect your business.

Prototype medtech spine displayed on a table at the SIP Jura Medtech congress 2022

IP protection for startups — 4 ways to protect your business.

Imagine your biotech innovation can change the world.

You come up with the idea, design a prototype and turn it into a minimum viable product (MVP). The business takes off and thousands of customers and hundreds of investors are flocking to you and your product.

Imagine someone says it was their idea. Maybe a contractor, employee or even a competitor. And they attempt to steal your idea and your business. They very well could if you don’t have the right protection set up for your intellectual property.

In this article, you’ll learn what an IP is, when you should and shouldn’t secure it and 4 ways to protect your startup’s IP.

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What is IP?

IP is short for intellectual property. IPs for startups include the use of trademarks, patents, copyrights and trade secrets.

Startups typically seek protection for different assets like inventions, business names, software and logos.

Depending on the type of intellectual property you’re looking to secure, different IP protection methods apply. For instance:

  • Trademarks protect a startup’s logo and brand name.
  • Patents protect your invention.
  • Copyrights protect software.

Protecting your IP is easier in the early startup stages when you’re still laying the groundwork. Once your business takes off and is seeing great levels of success, it’s a lot harder to protect it.

IP protection essentially sets up a defensive wall against your competition.

Think about your business as a castle. Your invention, software or brand is a treasure hidden within the castle walls. Without sufficient protection, an enemy army could invade at any time to steal your gold.

IP protection is like building a moat around your castle. It’s a defense strategy you can use to protect your intellectual property and your business. It can also attract investors, partners, suppliers and customers.

Your intellectual property such as inventions, ideas, software or branding are assets that make your startup more valuable. You should also think of the protection you add to your IP as an asset since it enhances your commercial value.

4 important ways to protect your startup’s IP.

When building a startup, countless tasks demand your attention. IP strategy might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But it’s crucial to protect your business.

Here are 4 elements you should check when building your IP strategy.

1. Trademark.

A trademark is a brand name and logo. Simply put, it’s your business name.

Since you’ve likely put in plenty of time and effort into developing your name and your branding, it’s important to make sure it’s actually yours.

To set up a trademark, you should start by conducting an online search to make sure someone else isn’t already using your name or your logo. If a name or logo is pretty close to yours but you’re unsure of what to do, it’s best to talk with a lawyer to help confirm whether your company name and logo are available.

If you have a Swiss business, you can search for available Swiss trademarks at the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IGE IPI).

The IGE IPI has a service that allows you to check for trademarks in giant databases.

While you should start by looking for company name trademarks, you will also want to conduct an online search related to your company. Don’t forget to look up your desired company name on the Central Business Name Index, too.

If your desired company name is available in your country, your next step is to trademark your business name. Keep in mind, registering your name isn’t a legal requirement but it will provide you with protection from potential legal action.

It can also help defend your brand if you find someone else using your name in their business since you can claim rights to the trademark.

In Switzerland, the cost to file a trademark is CHF 450 which includes three classes of goods and services for 10 years. After a decade, you’ll have to renew your trademark protection for another 10 years for CHF 700 (CHF 550 starting 1 July 2024). (Prices updated in April 2024).

2. Copyright.

Copyright covers any original work of creation or authorship that includes some level of individual expression. It’s most popular in the music industry. It can also be used in the form of print, lyrics, dance, photography and painting.

In terms of startup companies, copyright can also protect software as it falls under the classification “literary works.”

Wondering what type of IP protection you need to protect your software startup?

A copyright will protect the written code of your software while a patent will protect the concept.

The best part about copyright protection is that you don’t technically have to register in order to protect yourself. Unlike in other countries, copyright in Switzerland is automatically established once something is created.

3. Patent.

A patent is a type of intellectual property that gives the owner of the patent the power to prevent others from creating, using or selling an invention for a period of time. A patent protects new technical solutions, products or processes,

Filing for a patent is the longest and most challenging process of IP protection. To get started, you have to submit detailed examinations of drawings, descriptions or photography of the patent idea. You also need to conduct a deep investigation into the originality of the idea to test how unique it truly is.

The wait time for patents can be long. At the IGE IPI, where you can file for patent in Switzerland, it typically takes about eighteen months to approve a patent.

The patent process is typically broken down into four steps:

  1. Search existing patents (usually with a lawyer) to confirm no one has claimed ownership of your invention
  2. File paperwork with your country’s patent registration office.
  3. The IP organization will let you know whether your idea is patentable or not or if someone has claimed it already.
  4. A patent examiner from the IP organization will review your claims and whether it qualifies for patent.

Costs for filing a patent can vary widely.

Calculate extra budget for a lawyer because you’ll want an expert by your side to set up an IP strategy and to navigate the patent application process.

If you participate in one of our programs for startup founders, we will connect you with an IP lawyer.

For innovation in biotech, see BaseLaunch, for innovation in digital health it’s DayOne. If you are looking for entrepreneurial coaching, try Venture Mentoring.

4. Trade secret.

A trade secret is any information you have within your startup that could give a competitor an advantage. For instance, if someone were to leak specific product or marketing plans to your competition, they could implement your innovation and take market share from your business.

While trade secrets cover a wide range of possibilities, the simple way to combat them leaking is through confidentiality agreements or nondisclosure agreements (NDAs). You don’t need to technically register your trade secrets for legal protection. An NDA can add even more protection in the event of a legal dispute.

You should use NDAs with a variety of stakeholders, including partners, employees, contractors, job candidates, service providers and visitors. Essentially, anyone who is able to peer into your business should be given an NDA to sign.

But what about NDAs for investors? We posed this question to Peter Pietruk, a trusted patent attorney and regular speaker at our webinars on IP protection.

When not to secure IP.

Is there a scenario that doesn’t require IP protection? We again asked Peter Pietruk.

If you want to secure your IP by patents, you should consider your product life cycle, ability to prove infringement and the potential outcome of legal actions as well as affordability.

After all, obtaining a granted patent may require considerable time and money.

So, if your product becomes outdated very quickly with not even single elements being used in the next generation of products, IP rights other than patents might be better suited.

Also, even if your patents are actually infringed, there is no guarantee you can find, prove and stop the infringement. Clarify beforehand how infringements can be recognized and whether it is economically worthwhile to enforce your IP against potential infringers. This is particularly important if you want to go international and enforce your patents in different jurisdictions.

Peter PietrukEuropean Patent Attorney

Get help protecting your startup!

By protecting your intellectual property with an effective IP strategy, you safeguard your startup against legal action and your business will be more valuable in the eyes of investors.

An IP strategy shouldn’t be conducted alone, though.

If you have a biotech startup and need a lawyer to help you with the process, we recommend contacting Vossius & Partner.

For more information on the importance of an IP strategy, check out this podcast episode with Philipp Marchand.

We also organize regular webinars on IP with IP specialist Peter Pietruk to help you navigate the challenging process of applying for IP. To get an update on our next events, sign up for our newsletter.

Questions and answers around intellectual property (IP).

We attended Peter Pietruk’s most recent webinar on IP. Besides the highly interesting talk, we got to ask him questions! Here are the highlights:
Can you explain IP transfer and its relevance to startups and the PFAS treatment technologies challenge?

IP transfer involves transferring intellectual property rights between entities through sale, purchase or licensing. In the mentioned challenge, it may involve transferring the IP related to PFAS treatment technologies to the startup. For more details, visit the Wazoku Crowd page.

What is sub-licensing?

Sub-licensing is granting a licence to another party (sub-licensee) by a licensee who already holds the licence. It allows the sub-licensee to use the intellectual property rights with the approval of the original IP owner. The terms and conditions vary based on the agreement between the parties.

What happens when two people invent the same product and apply for a patent simultaneously?

In most jurisdictions, including the US, the patent is granted to the first person who filed the application. This is known as the first-to-file system.

Is a patent rejected in the EU but granted elsewhere still worthy?

The worthiness of a patent depends on various factors. If rejected in the EU but granted in other countries, it holds value in those jurisdictions. However, rejection in the EU due to unpatentable subject matter, like certain surgical methods, limits its protection. Prior art and other factors may also affect the granted patent’s scope and enforceability.

Are publicly listed company names automatically protected as trademarks?

No, public listing doesn’t automatically protect company names as trademarks. Separate trademark registration is recommended, along with registering the associated domain name, to prevent misuse.

How can we navigate ongoing/upcoming regulations like MDR in Switzerland?

It requires attention and proactive measures. Staying informed, seeking legal advice and ensuring compliance are crucial for smooth transitions and adherence to regulations like MDR.

Startup mentors work closely with entrepreneurs to help them develop their ideas. They help to validate their business models, navigate challenges and make informed decisions.

Adrian SprengerManager Entrepreneurship at Basel Area Business & Innovation

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