Investing a lot of days, nights and weekends in developing an innovative product can be frustrating when the avant-garde features of the product end up in the competition’s offer. At some point, once business initiatives start to gain momentum, intellectual property protection becomes one more thing to worry about. But it doesn’t have to be a nightmare, here are some recommendations to help technology entrepreneurs identify and protect new, potentially patentable inventions:
1. Contracts with its employees and agreements with independent contractors
The first thing to do is to review employment agreements – and agreements with independent contractors – to ensure that they are committed to partially or fully assigning to the company their rights to all inventions developed in the course of their work. If contracts or agreements do not explicitly oblige you to assign the inventions, it may be difficult to obtain a patent from them, especially if that employee or independent contractor no longer works for the company.
2. Circulating an information disclosure form
The first step in obtaining a patent is to identify ideas that are potentially patentable. Knowing and understanding employee inventions as soon as possible will allow the company’s lawyers to anticipate the competition’s requests and write them with the most accurate and complete information, i. e., to make stronger patents. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, just ask the legal department to issue a PDF form and then send it to the task force.
3. Create a «patent unit» that quickly reviews new inventions
Once your employees start filling out the information disclosure forms, it is necessary to find out if these new developments are worth patenting. It is best to organize a team that discusses this, and includes at least one person from the administration, engineering, marketing and sales staff. It is important to keep marketing and sales people up to date on patents, because they are often the first to disclose new technological advances outside the company. When your team agrees that a particular development is patentable, contact your patent attorney so that he or she can determine if it is truly patentable and, if so, prepare and file a patent application.
4. Give cash incentives for patented inventions
Sometimes your team may need a little «inspiration» to think about protecting the development they are carrying out. It is possible to consider a system of financial incentives, in the form of bonds or promissory notes, when a patent application is filed and then, when such patent is granted. The inventor of the patent must also be taken into account and part of the benefits generated by the exploitation of the patent must be granted.
5. Keep everything organized
Once you have begun to seek protection for your patentable inventions, it is important to keep everything organized. Keep copies of your intellectual property documents in a well-organized archive (the agreements or contracts of inventors named in their patents, the forms of disclosure of information, issued patents, licenses for use, and other contracts). This can be done by a document management system or simply by creating a folder on the computer; what is really important is that you have access to this information for when a potential investor appears.