Intellectual property (IP) law is a huge part of any business, whether you’re a local startup or an established international company.
That said, elements of IP law like patents are particularly important to those smaller and newer businesses. That’s critical for entrepreneurs to recognize before even getting started.
Whether you are new to IP law or already have a general idea, it’s necessary to look into patents before releasing an invention to market, even if you aren’t yet convinced your idea will be the next iPhone or Tesla.
Here is why patents matter to small businesses and startups, no matter what industry you are in.
WHAT IS A PATENT?
If you’re at the start of your entrepreneurial journey, you may still be a little foggy about what exactly patents are and how they can apply to your business and original invention.
Basically, a patent is the area of IP law that protects inventions. While trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets are also vital for protecting the other unique parts of a business or brand, patents are necessary to protect your core idea.
Upon receiving a patent, you are essentially granted a temporary monopoly. Depending on the patent type, this monopoly can last up to 20 years, giving you sufficient time and opportunity to thrive with your idea before competitors can dive in and imitate the idea.
Depending on the type of invention you have, there are also many different types of patents with different requirements. For instance, a design patent will cover the appearance of an invention (something important for things with a unique ornamental design) while utility patents cover the function (some inventors will want both for the same invention).
To ensure you’re clear on the details for your specific situation (whether you qualify for a patent, what patent type you should apply for, etc.), have a conversation with a patent attorney in your area. Many offer free consultations to help give you a general idea of where you stand and whether they would be a good fit to help you with the rest of the process.
WHY PATENTS MATTER
As mentioned, having exclusive rights to a new invention will help you establish yourself, your brand, and your product before you’re under pressure from other businesses that want to compete.
Because of this aggression in the market, lack of patent protection can make it very easy to be drowned out by competition that finds a way to sell your invention for a lower cost, provide it on a larger scale, or simply cut into your client base.
No matter what industry your idea falls into, this can be devastating and unfair, especially when so much work and creativity can go into a single idea.
On a larger scale, patents promote innovation since there is an incentive to come out with cutting-edge ideas and come out with them first. Without patents, many entrepreneurs can easily feel discouraged and the market will be dominated by big players with decades of experience and recognition.
Patents benefit both the seller and the consumer by protecting an inventor’s unique ideas while continuing to reward innovation that will improve the consumer experience.
IMPORTANCE TO SMALLER VENTURES
All that said, there is a specific degree of importance when it comes to startups, small businesses, and young, new entrepreneurs.
As mentioned, an idea without a patent can benefit the bigger, more experienced businesses since there’s nothing preventing them from copying an idea and using their influence, resources, and power to sell it on massive scales for low prices that startups won’t be able to compete with.
J.D. Houvener, a New York patent attorney, has a special attachment to new, upstarting entrepreneurs.
“Small businesses are the cornerstone of our economy, and they are what helps to keep dreams alive! Independent, budding entrepreneurs represent a larger idea of innovation and success that is attainable for anyone with the talent and drive to achieve it,” he says. “That’s why I find it especially vital for small businesses and new entrepreneurs to obtain patenting rights; they deserve a chance to compete in an aggressive market and keep that dream alive.”
Even if patents seem financially unattainable for smaller ventures, it’s important to find a way to make them happen before bringing an idea to market.
PROTECT WITH A PATENT
Patents can protect so many different types of inventions, including apps, devices, recipes—and even plants.
No matter which categories your inventions fall under, it is important to ensure you protect them with a patent before bringing them to market. It’s astonishing how competitive and aggressive the market can be, and small businesses specifically need all the protection they can get to ensure they aren’t taken advantage of and driven out of the market.
About the Author
Freelance writer, editor, and social media strategist Katherine (Tori) Lutz is Content Manager at Student Tutor.