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If you’re a startup founder, then your intellectual property is a crucial part of your business.
Startups achieve success by bringing new or innovative ideas to the marketplace, it follows that, for founders, protecting their intellectual property is often the key to achieving success.
Despite this being the case, many startup founders fail to adequately safeguard their golden ideas and find themselves in legal trouble.
Have You Registered Your Trade Marks?
When starting a business, registering a trade mark may not be a priority. However, as you build your business’ reputation, we advise you register your name and logo as a trade mark. Companies are also increasingly registering trade marks for their domain names as their online presence is a significant part of the business’ goodwill.
Failure to do so could leave your startup vulnerable, as competitors (including accidental ones) might encroach on your customer-base by using your name or a logo that’s like yours. Worse still, if a competitor obtains a trade mark before you do, they could gain the exclusive rights to use the name, logo or other symbol acting as a badge of origin, and force you to rebrand.
Have You Assigned Your Intellectual Property?
Many startups, including Facebook and Snapchat, have been on the receiving end of lawsuits brought by former founders who did not assign their IP to the company before their departure. Snapchat’s recent IPO revealed that the unicorn-company had offered Reggie Brown, an employee who left the company during its early stages, upwards of $150 million.
Startup founders would do well to avoid this situation by ensuring that each founder has assigned their intellectual property to the company. IP assignment is a contractual agreement through which intellectual property rights can be transferred. You can assign IP via a Technology Transfer Agreement.
Do Your Employment Contracts Explicitly Reference Employees’ IP Obligations?
Last, but not least, ensure that your company’s employment contracts address an employee’s obligations regarding intellectual property. This will prevent employees from leaving the company and taking either industry trade secrets or original work that they developed using the company’s resources with them.
For example, a dating app brings on a developer to increase the app’s efficiency by using a new algorithm. The employment contract should specify that anything the developer creates in the course of his/her employment belongs to the company. It should further state that company will act to prevent the developer from taking the algorithm if he/she leaves the startup.
Similarly, employment contracts that explicitly reference an employee’s obligations with respect to confidential information can prevent them from taking items such as client lists when they leave.
If you have already entered into an Employment Agreement without assigning employee inventions to the company, you can enter into a post-employment Invention Assignment Agreement with the Employee.
If you have any questions, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or +254-773-615-006
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