How To Protect Your Startup Intellectual Property

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The World Intellectual Property Organization(WIPO) defines Intellectual Property(IP) as creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs and symbols, names and images used in commerce. These creations are the lifeblood of a business, think of franchises like KFC, Coca Cola or even google’s search engine algorithm. If someone with the right means was able to get access to the IP of these companies they would easily be able to replicate what makes their product special and sell it under their own name. In order to prevent this, many governments around the world recognize standard ways of protecting IP, some common ones include patents, copyrights and trademarks. It’s critically important that you understand these different concepts and how they apply to your business to make sure you don’t lose exclusive rights to your own hard work. You can have all the security measures in place, but it doesn’t make a difference if due to your own negligence someone can legally steal your work. Even worse, if someone beats you to protecting your own IP, they can not only steal your idea but make it illegal for you to use your own creation. In order to prevent this I’ve created this list of common legal IP protections that you can look into to ensure that your ideas are protected. As you go through the article here is a list of IP offices in varying countries, so you can find the one applicable to you and contact them if need be.


A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention. This invention is a product or process that creates a new way of doing something. In order to get a patent, technical information about the invention must be disclosed in a patent application. Patent’s grant the owner exclusive rights to the invention and prevent others from commercializing the invention. Patents are territorial rights, meaning they are only applicable in the country that the patent is filed and granted. Generally they last 20 years from the date they are filled. Some popular examples of patented technology are: the electric lightbulb, Telephone, Computer, Bluetooth and even Google’s Pagerank.


This is a legal document that protects the rights creators have over their literary and artistic works. This includes things like books, music, paintings, sculptures, films, computer programs, databases, advertisements, maps and technical drawings. Copyright protection extends only to expressions and not to ideas, procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts. There are two types of rights under copyright:

Economic rights: This allows the owner to get financial compensation from their work, prevent certain uses of their work by others and get compensated for the use of their work by others who didn’t have permission. Economic rights can allow or prevent the following:

– the reproduction of work

– public performances for example a music concert

– the recording of a work

– The work being adapted into things like a film, play or television

Moral Rights: Protect the non-economic interests of an author. So this includes things like preventing changes to an author’s work that may ruin their reputation. 

In most countries copyright protection is obtained automatically but most countries have a system in place where you can formally get copyright protection. If possible, I would always suggest formally obtaining copyright protection if it is available.


A trademark is an IP protection for a sign capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one enterprise from those of other enterprises. Think of things like nikes checkmark logo, Geico’s talking gecko or the McDonald’s golden arch. Trademarks create an exclusive right to use the registered sign by the owner or licensed third parties, who usually pay the owner for the right to use that sign. Unlike the other two protection methods trademarks can be done at a national and international level. To get it done internationally, you can file a trademark application with the trademark office of each country that you want to register it or through the WIPO Madrid system, to get protection in up to 122 countries. Trademark registration varies in length but usually lasts ten years and can be renewed indefinitely. 

Trade Secrets

Trade secrets are IP rights on confidential information, which is not publicly disclosed and provides some competitive advantage. The formal criteria as outlined by the WIPO is:

– Must be commercial valuable because it remains secret

– Be known only to a limited group of persons

-The rights holder must take reasonable steps to keep it secret


Trade secrets can be applied to any business information whether it is technical such as designs for a computer program or commercial information like advertising strategies.

A trade secret can also be a combination of items that are publicly known but together create a secret. For example a recipe for a food product, the individual ingredients may be ordinary items but the combination of these items are a trade secret that gives the company a competitive advantage over other companies. 

The protection of a trade secret is not as straightforward as others. This is because a trade secret only provides protection by outlawing someone from stealing that information from another company, which has to be proven. If someone comes to the same conclusion through their own R&D, reverse engineering or market analysis then they have not broken any rules relating to the trade secret. It’s only if unfair trade practices such as commercial espionage, breach of contract or breach of confidence result in this secret becoming known to others that the trade secret takes effect and legal action can be taken. 

Geographical Indication

Geographical Indication (GI) is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation because of their origin. It allows people that hold this protection to prevent third parties whose products don’t conform to the standards from using the sign that refers to the area on their products. It is primarily used for agricultural products, foodstuffs, wine and spirit drinks and industrial products. It can be requested by a group of producers of a product in a certain area and is granted by the local authority of your country. Some examples of this are Scotch Whiskey, Champagne and Parmesan Cheese.

Industrial Designs

An industrial design consists of three dimensional features, such as the shape of an article or two dimensional features like patterns, lines or colour. The owner of this has the right to prevent third parties from making, selling or importing articles bearing or embodying a design that uses a copy of the design for commercial purposes. To be considered a copy, it can be a complete copy of the design or a copy of a substantial part of the design. Common examples of this are with jewelry, graphic symbols and graphical user interfaces (GUI). You can apply for an industrial design locally under the category of registered design but some countries offer specific design patients instead.


It’s important to identify the IP at the core of your business and ensure it is protected under the right protection method. There are many instances of inventions being stolen right under people’s noses because they were slow in securing what was their idea. You don’t want to be in that situation. Here is a list by the WIPO of IP offices in countries all over the world, you can go here and contact the office in your area to get IP protection asap. It’s also important to understand what countries outside of your own you may be doing business in and make sure you are protected in those countries as well.