With the growing popularity of crowdsourcing and the government’s efforts (as they may be) with regard to regulation of crowdfunding platforms, you may be considering using crowdfunding to finance your next startup venture. I am an advocate for crowdfunding (and am co-developing a campaign to launch at the end of next month); however, as an IP lawyer, I think there are a few key points that need to be kept in mind before jumping into (onto?) this platform.
The fundamental principle that underlies all of these points is the acknowledgement that you are putting your yet-undeveloped concept out on the Internet for the whole world to see. As a result, without adequate safeguards, it is easy to expose yourself to unnecessary risk.
Now, I’m not saying that everyone out there will (or even can) take your idea and run with it—but if there are some simple and relatively inexpensive things you can do to safeguard your concepts, why not take advantage of them just in case?
1. File for USPTO Trademark Registration
The USPTO allows entrepreneurs to file for trademark registration before they actually begin using a new trademark. This opportunity is limited to those who actually have a “bona fide” intent to use the trademark, but many people don’t know this, and this is why we’ve seen people attempting to “reserve” trademarks like “Linsanity” and “Blue Ivy” (Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s newborn’s name) by filing registration applications with the USPTO. Unfortunately, when it comes to protecting intellectual property, startups and entrepreneurs need to keep issues like this in mind—while someone who tries to swoop in and steal your trademark likely won’t have a leg to stand on, this doesn’t make up for the stress and additional costs that will go into convincing them that this is the case.
2. Scarf Up Your Domain Names and Social Media Accounts
Related, before going public with a new trademark entrepreneurs and startups should go through the exercise of registering all (and I mean all) of the available domain names and social media accounts that correspond to their chosen trademark (provided, of course, that your chosen trademark is actually available for adoption). These lists are probably longer than you might think, and someone with experience can help you develop a strategy for reserving all of the necessary names and profiles.
3. Register Your Copyrights and Use Copyright Notices
When you put unique and creative ideas down on paper or produce them in a video, this doesn’t go so far as to make the ideas themselves protected, but it does serve to place restrictions on what people can (and cannot) do with your original media. This is the fundamental concept of copyright law, and, while copyright protection is automatic, registering your copyrighted works with the U.S. Copyright Office is cheap and provides several important additional benefits. If you can show someone that their derivation of something you put in a video subjects them to potential statutory liability (one of the benefits of registration), this can go a long way toward producing an amicable settlement instead of prolonged discontentment.
4. Don’t Give Away More than You Absolutely Have To
In that same vein, and remembering that not everyone will give due credit to your innovation and creativity, when seeking crowdfunding you should not disclose any more of your plans than you absolutely have to. The less information you put out there, the less information other people will have to copy. If your product is attractive enough without going into the seven unique revenue streams it will generate, then leave these off of the table. Focusing on broad concepts and the benefits the product will provide rather than the technical innovations behind them will help you retain the exclusive ability to carry your ideas to fruition.
5. If You’re Going to Spread the Word, Spread the Word
Finally, once you’ve taken these preliminary steps, it is important to remember that they still won’t stop everyone with a mind for misdeeds from trying to leech off of your creativity and sweat equity. As a result, you still need to be on the lookout for potential issues. In this regard, spreading your presence as widely and quickly as you can may be the way to go. The more space you occupy (i) the harder it will be for someone else to get there first, and (ii) the harder it will be for someone to claim that they weren’t aware of your concept and created their product independently.
Jeff Fabian helps business owners protect their intellectual property so that they can stay focused on running their businesses. Visit http://fabianip.com for more information, and follow Jeff on Twitter @FabianOnIP.
This article is provided for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice.Suscribe to the podcast