How do I protect my idea and product?

Take-aways from a talk in the Trust Center on 7/7/16

Protect your assets: Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks, Trade Secret

  1. A patent is a property
  • Just like real (i.e house) and personal (i.e laptop, car) properties, a patent is a property of your ideas and is treated like a property: you can assign / sell /lease /mortgage it…
  • Unlike with real property, you are responsible for defining your intellectual property. If you describe it wrong, the court can’t fix / redefine it for you.
  • Three conditions of patentability - novel, non-obvious, useful

 

  • Patents’ structure:
    • First page
    • Inventor
    • Title
    • Patent number and date of patent (date of issue) - This date has lost its significance: in the past, patents expired 7 years from the date of issue. Today, patents only expire 20 years from the day of filing.
    • Abstract - what the inventor believed the patent was the day he filled it. This abstract does not represent the actual patent, which is only defined after an evaluation of a patent examiner (and many time followed by a negotiation process with the inventor).
    • Patents claims

 

      • The very last paragraph of the patent but the most important part-  this should be your focus when reviewing with a patent lawyer.
      • The result of the negotiation with the patent office examiner - this is the real patent.
      • Must be written as one sentence.
      • Make sure your definition is well balanced:  broad enough to make it hard for others to work around it, but not too broad so it’s not perceived as public knowledge.
  • It’s about the invention, not the product - so make sure you’re first!
    • It doesn't matter how long you worked on your invention. It matters whether you filed it first so make sure you file your patent before others do.
    • You don’t have to build a product to file the patent. You need to be able to describe it in enough details to demonstrate your ability to build it in the future.
    • It doesn’t have to be perfect- as you improve, you can always add more original ideas to your patent.
    • You don’t have to invent a new technology. Your invention can also be a combination of existing technologies in a way that is innovative. (If you rely on others’ inventions though, you will probably need to license from / cross-patent /partner with others to execute)
  • Provisional patent application:  
    • You only get a grace period of 1 year to publically test your product in the market before you file a patent. If it’s public for more than 1 year in the US, it is no longer considered “novel”.
    • If you plan to publically disclose something ahead of time, you should put a provisional patent application. This is a way for you to put your patent “out there” and work around the public disclosure.
  1. Copyrights, trade secret and trademark - 

Copyrights

  • The expression of the idea not the idea itself.
    • Example: sport games - the video of the game is protected by copyrights but the actual game isn’t. Same with music.
    • Software code is protected but algorithms are not - algorithm are the idea. The code is the expression of it.
    • Open source code - in this case, the publishers say they are not going to enforce the copyrights if people copy their code as long as they treat it as open source.

Trade Secret

  • Pay attention to what you chose to hear/ disclose. If you don’t want others to copy your secrets, don’t disclose them to begin with. And the other way around- don’t listen/ read if you don’t want to be accused of copying.

Trademark

  • This is very important for first mover advantage. Building your brand could make/break your market penetration. For example: pharmaceutical companies charge higher and own greater market share if they’re first to market even though there are identical copycat drugs out there.
  • ™ and ©  are “guilt symbols” - If someone copies your exact logo/ brand they violate copyrights/ trademark even if you didn’t use the symbols. These rights exist on use.
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      This website provides general information related to legal and business matters. It is intended for educational purposes only. This website does not and is not intended to provide legal advice. Although we take great care to make sure that all of our information is accurate and useful, if you have a specific issue for which you need actionable advice, please come to the Martin Trust Center in person to speak to one of our Entrepreneurs in Residence or consult a licensed attorney or other professional. No attorney-client, advisor, or other confidential relationship exists or will be formed between you and the Martin Trust Center or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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