Intellectual Property Protection: Preserving Bright Ideas

In the world of health innovation, there’s never been a better time for entrepreneurial spirits to thrive. Global health expenditures are projected to rise by over 5% before 2022—bringing total spending up to over $10 trillion. In the U.S. alone, healthcare spending accounts for 18% of the national GDP.

As we look toward the future of health, it’s clearly ripe with potential—especially for entrepreneurs who are brave enough to think outside the box about innovation and how to approach it. Innovation breeds inventiveness, and so an influx of new health tech-enabled products and services are poised to transform how care is delivered.

Every business has intellectual property and it is important to protect it in order to remain competitive in the marketplace. Without appropriate intellectual property protection, your company runs the risk of others misappropriating your company’s assets. That’s why intellectual property protection is integral to the survival and sustainability of your company.

Whether you’re a new business owner or someone eager to shed light on your bright idea, here are four key guidelines to keep top of mind when it comes to preserving your intellectual assets.

1. Know What It Is and What Your Rights Are

As defined by the World Intellectual Property Organization, intellectual property can be explained simply as “creations of the mind: inventions; literary and artistic works; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.”

Don’t underestimate the value of intellectual property, even during the planning phase of a new product, service or business strategy. This is especially important for information or innovation-focused companies. As an asset, intellectual property—such as issued patents, pending patent applications, copyrights, patents and trademarks—can be leveraged in a variety of ways, like being used as collateral when seeking a commercial loan. Banks may obtain a security interest in the intellectual property collateral pursuant to a security agreement. It’s a great responsibility and so knowing what rights you have with your intellectual property is key.

“Intellectual property is about protect, attack and defend. This way, you get the most of what you have,” said Lee Kim, JD, CISSP, CIPP/US, FHIMSS, director of privacy and security at HIMSS. Kim is an attorney with expertise rooted in healthcare, cybersecurity and intellectual property law.

She emphasized the need to enforce your intellectual property. “This could mean litigating against others to defend your assets or attacking the assets of others—such as alleged infringers.”

2. Know What’s Yours and What’s Not

Building an intellectual property inventory is another key part of a sound intellectual property protection strategy. “Know what you have—copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, patents and potentially patentable inventions,” said Kim. “Once you have the inventory, map out your intellectual property and see where the gaps are. Understand what you want to protect in order to remain competitive and viable. Develop a roadmap to ascertain where you are and where you need to be.”

Many companies have different policies about what intellectual property they own, Kim added. “For example, a company may have a policy that states that anything you create—regardless of what it is and when you do it, and whether or not you use company resources—is owned by the company. Other companies may have a more narrow policy, such as any intellectual property you create within a certain line of business is owned by the company.”

“Consider seeking the advice of independent intellectual property legal counsel if you want someone to review an intellectual property protection agreement that you may have to sign—which may be a separate agreement—or embedded in an employment contract, or elsewhere.”

3. Anticipate Potential Risks

Before you file a patent application, Kim highly recommends doing a patent search. This can help assess whether your invention may be patentable.

There’s no magic number for how many patents you should have, Kim added. “Some companies have thousands of patents. Others have a more conservative patent strategy and seek protection for inventions that are essential to their business, whether in terms of what they want to do or in terms of an area which they otherwise want to occupy.”

Trade secrets, however, are perhaps one of the most valuable intellectual property assets that any company can have. They give a company a competitive advantage over others and can last indefinitely. “You really need to ensure that you safeguard your trade secrets. Without adequate protection of a trade secret, the information may be become part of the public domain,” said Kim. “In today’s digital world, make sure you assess and manage cybersecurity risk for your company’s intellectual property assets, including trade secrets, patentable inventions and know-how.”

Keep in mind, though, that costs and legal fees can significantly add up. “Carefully plan your strategy and map out the projected costs before you take the leap,” Kim added.

4. Consider Global Protection

If your company has the budget and wishes to seek intellectual property protection outside of your own country, Kim recommends looking into international intellectual property protection. Choosing which countries you’re seeking intellectual property protection in may be based on where your company operates and the countries in which your company is active (i.e., market share), as well as where your company intends to operate or grow a customer base or market share in the future. And, even if you don’t plan to expand beyond your own country, getting global protection is still a good safeguard, said Kim. “If your company distributes products to other countries and/or customers located elsewhere, you may want to seek international protection in those regions.”

Preserving your company’s intellectual creations through intellectual property protection can be the key to your company’s future. No matter what it is, where in the world you’re selling it or how you bring it to fruition, treat it like the valuable asset that it is. By prioritizing intellectual property protection today, your company will be better positioned to reap the benefits tomorrow.

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