* 17 Seconds #34 – Is your startup having an IP mid-life crisis?

It just takes longer because I’m Middle-Aged Man!

By Erik J. Heels

First published 3/17/2017; ErikJHeels.com; publisher: GiantPeople.

Mid-life crisis in the Middle Ages.

That, of course, is a reference to the 1990s SNL “Middle-Aged Man Superhero” sketch by Mike Myers. And, yes, I know how escrow works.

For startups on a 5-8 year exit trajectory, life has three phases:

  • In years 0-3, startups file patents and trademarks.
  • In years 4-6, startups broaden patents and trademarks.
  • In years 7-9, startups maintain patents and trademarks.

Today I want to focus on startups in years 4-6, namely middle-aged startups. By this point, smart startups will have filed about four trademarks (typically for their name, logo, tagline, and main product) and about one patent (for their core product) in their top two markets (typically the US and Europe). Most of the trademarks should have registered, and patents should be pending or issued.

The most important thing for middle-aged startups to do is to inject IP thinking into their product launch process. Before any new product (or an improvement to an existing product) is launched (i.e. sold, offered for sale, publicly used, or publicized), you should consider whether or not to file patents. For patents, file before launching the product to preserve both US and foreign rights. For trademarks, vet the trademark (by searching and optionally filing for trademarks) before launching a new name, logo, tagline, product, brand, or website.

The second most important thing is to consider broadening existing IP rights (in existing countries) or expanding into other countries. If you have over $5M in revenue in any country, then you should consider patents for that country. If you have over $0.5M in revenue in any country, then you should consider trademarks for that country. You should also consider IP protection in any countries where key partners and potential acquirers are located. Middle-aged startups should think strategically about IP spending.

As always, it is way easier to prevent IP problems than it is to fix them. And that is why Middle-Aged Man always gets his flu shot!


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