Protecting the product itself, the brand name or a process is one of the most crucial parts when starting up a business. If one fails at that, the party can be over before it even started. At the Austrian Startups Stammtisch #9 yesterday, lawyer Lukas Emberger talked about how to protect one’s business idea properly. The quintessence of the talk: although the idea itself may not be able to be protected by law, there are ways to protect several issues around it. Yet, his ultimate advice was to start thinking about legal protection before actually founding a business and investing heavily in a brand, a name or a certain process technique.
“At the very beginning, there are always four basic things to consider,” said Lukas Emberger. Founders need to think about what they want to have legally protected, where (in a geographic sense) the protection should be given, and how much of the budget can be spent for this purpose. Last but not least, the costs always need to be set in context with the estimated return of having a brand name, a product or a process technique legally protected.
Different tools for different purposes
Depending on what the company’s purpose is and what kind ofproduct or service it is selling, there are different legal measures that can be taken, according to the intellectual property rights expert. To be distinguished are patents, utility models, registered designs, brands and the automatically generated copyright. Whereas the patent is the most widely known one, the utility model may be favourable, too. Technical innovations and inventions can be protected using those, the difference between them being the length of the protection and the cost. A patent is valid for 20 years, a utility model for ten.
A registered design can be any combination of colour, form, fashion or other important aspects of a product that define it, although the maximal length of the protection here lies within 25 years. Infinite protection is possible for brands and brand names. Here, the names or certain combinations of colours in combination with the brand name can be protected for ten years and renewed infinitely.
An NDA is your friend
A so-called non-disclosure agreement is, according to Lukas Emberger, a very important tool for young entrepreneurs and inventors who try to pitch their idea to potential business partners, investors or business angels. “Before talking openly about the idea, an NDA is advisable, definitely if it comes to talks about something concrete,” reminded the expert.
When talking to authorities, tax or business consultants, however, such agreements are not needed as professionals – by law – underlie the duty to maintain secrecy. When it comes to NDAs, it is also necessary to implement sanctions in case of violation of secrecy and confidentiality in the agreement. What is more, founders should not be hesitating to use this instrument even if they think the other side might be reluctant to sign, said Emberger: “An NDA is nothing murky. If the other side strongly refrains from signing such a paper, you might want to think about whether or not this would be a good partnership.”