Updated: Mar 21
Ludwig Lindermayer is a patent and trademark attorney at PAUSTIAN & PARTNER. In a series of thought leadership pieces, he outlines the basics of intellectual property and how best to protect them as a startup, and he is one of our 100+ coaches & mentors at BERLIN STARTUP SCHOOL.
The common perception is this: intellectual property (IP) costs tons of money, and people need to understand it. The process can seem particularly cumbersome in an environment where someone or a group of people have an excellent idea for a business and are working hard to get it off the ground and flying. In this situation, almost everything is new and exciting, working hours are long, and most of the time, one has to prioritise tasks to at least get some sleep. And then there is this incomprehensive monster lurking in the shadow.
Everybody knows it is somehow essential – at least others say so – IP. So many realise that it is a necessary aspect of their business, but o many end up pushing it back until dealing with it becomes essential. But is IP really that horrible? So why do some get lost in the IP rabbit hole?
IP is a toolbox for your company's success, nothing more and nothing less.
It is essential to always consider your IP as a tool and not as an end in itself. A granted patent will not help you if you do not use it. For example, if you want to hang something on your wall, I recommend pictures of family and friends, not patent and trademark certificates.
All IP rights are based on the same fundamental principle: To provide you with a particular monopoly. Or put differently, to prevent or make it illegal for others to do what you do. This monopoly is, among others, dependent on the specific tool and the area in which this tool is valid. But in the end, the main goal is to create an IP portfolio tailored to the business that provides you with as much of a monopoly as possible: your toolbox.
All IP rights are based on the same fundamental principle: To provide you with a particular monopoly. Or put differently, to prevent or make it illegal for others to do what you do.
So what are the tools? They may vary from country to country, but essentially it is these "mighty three":
Technical IP rights
These are among the most prominent of the technical IP rights, the patent. Some places follow a utility model with its rules, which are just as mighty as the standard patent.
These two protect the technical features of your invention/product for a specific time. Not the shape or colour – unless needed for a technical effect. They cover technical features, including artificial intelligence, from a flying taxi to software.
An often-underestimated tool, trademarks are mighty in their own right. They protect your brand – your identity. They cover the emotions determining why people buy your product/service. As such, they can be anything from words to logos and even jingles, colours and places you put your name or logo. The best thing about them is that they are relatively cheap, quick to have, and long-lasting with good care. Moreover, they are usually easy to enforce.
Designs protect the look of your product independent of its technical features, almost the opposite of a patent. Therefore, whenever you put effort into the aesthetic design of your product to achieve a particular look, consider checking if it is eligible for design protection.
These three are just a few type o IP rights; there are others among them, for example, copyright. This is essentially an IP right that is created and sometimes can be registered whenever you make something. This could be literature, the looks of a vase or software. However, the copyright is one IP right that does its best to avoid fitting into a black-and-white picture. It enormously varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Each of the "mighty three" defines a piece of your monopoly and what you can forbid others from doing. You can also sell and buy them, license them, and even use them as a currency in particular situations, making your company more interesting for investors.
One of the basic principles of IP is that if you (intend to) earn your money with it, it is worth protecting.
These three are just a few IP rights; others are among them, for example, copyright. This is essentially an IP right that is created and sometimes can be registered whenever you make something. This could be literature, the looks of a vase or software. However, the copyright is one IP right that does its best to avoid fitting into a black-and-white picture. It enormously varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. One of the basic principles of IP is that if you (intend to) earn your money with it, it is worth protecting.
In the next part of this series, we'll tackle the first of the "mighty three": Trademarks.