How to Protect Yourself When Starting a CompanyKathleen Celmins
So, you have an idea for a product, and you think it’s a pretty good one. What do you do next?
How do you protect yourself? How do you keep others from stealing your ideas?
I recently got the chance to put these questions to Lauren Lang, who started a company called Imagine Baby. Her insight was great!
How to Protect Yourself When Starting a Company
Very early on in the process of developing our product we engaged with an IP attorney for multiple reasons. The first reason we engaged an IP attorney was to complete a search of all existing patents to determine if there were any barriers for Imagine Baby to obtain a patent based on the product(s) we had designed. This is a very important step because if you don’t know what other patents exist and you proceed with the patent application you could end up spending time and money on something that otherwise may not be patentable. Once we knew there were no barriers we proceeded with the patent application, which is the second reason we engaged with an IP attorney. Be selective as to who you chose to work with for your patent application. You don’t want any holes in your application that could be a potential opportunity for others to capitalize on your idea. A patent on a product is very important because it protects your idea from getting copied or ripped off. It also adds value to your product(s) should a sale of a product idea or the entire company ever become an option. As a new company we wanted to position ourselves to have as many options as possible not knowing what direction the company could take. In addition to our patents we have also applied and received, in some places, our Trademark for the Imagine Baby logo.
Be careful who you show your product to prior to having, at a minimum, patent pending status. There are many people in this world who will try and capitalize on other people’s ideas. Be sure to keep your product or idea within close, trusted circles until you know you have some recourse. When we had our product idea we did a lot of product demonstration seeking feedback to be able to make the product better. We asked only close friends and family for their opinions until we had a patent pending status and that was when we were comfortable taking our product to focus groups with people we did not know. Feedback from both groups was invaluable but making sure you protect your product / idea along the way is key.
Managing the money of a new company / product is always another area of concern for a new business. Being able to understand what your initial expenses are and projecting what they may be down the road is an important step to building a successful company. If you understand the money required from the beginning it helps you be able to make financial decisions along the way. There can be financial surprises that you can’t forecast but if you are prepared financially to be able to make decisions and react, it will help lessen the impact of the surprises. For example, we ran into a timing issue brought on by a supplier that required us to import our product from overseas via air instead of sea. Shipping via air is much more costly then by sea but it was a necessary cost of doing business for us. We were not able to project that this was going to happen, however, we had planned for financial surprises and were able to make accommodations to support it.