My Secret IP

IP Strategy is one of the big topics I’m getting my head around in this startup. What is my IP right now? What of that ...

IP Strategy is one of the big topics I’m getting my head around in this startup. What is my IP right now? What of that is worth protecting? How should I protect it?

To answer my questions I sought out a few sources:

  • Read through “Patent It Yourself” by David Pressman

  • Consulted with several mentors and industry peers

  • Consulted with my attorney

Most interesting was the continuum of advice I received from mentors & peers. The most conservative viewpoints were essentially, “DON’T SAY NOTHING TO NOBODY.” While the most liberal boiled down to “Tell the world, don’t worry about it—nobody has the passion and the drive to steal your ideas. and make them work the way you will.”

Perhaps my favorite advice came directly from my attorney, a moderate view right down the middle, couched in a lovely metaphor:

It is a bit of a balancing act. It’s one thing to let people taste the secret sauce; it’s another to show them the recipe.

Given all the advice, here’s my current IP strategy, a work in progress:

  1. Capture all ideas in an Inventor’s Notebook. Recommended by Pressman’s book, I purchased a proper notebook from none other than the Scientific Notebook Company. Over the weekend I pulled together a timeline of my product ideas from all of my notes, and page-by-page I transcribed them into the notebook, dating the pages with today’s dates, but referring back to the dates when I had each of these ideas.

  2. Continue to talk about my product concepts, but… keep the information at a high-level. I’ll be honest, my tendency is to talk about everything, so I have to be more careful with this one. I’ve found the easiest way for me to hold back is to focus the conversation on the customer and their problem, rather than my solution.

  3. Use the NDA as a screen. Before getting into the details of my solution concepts, I’m going to be more intentional and proactive about putting NDA’s in front of people. I’ve found this action has had a couple of nice benefits so far:

    1. People who are only casually interested tend to stop here. Good for me—why say more than I should to someone who doesn’t care?

    2. For potential partners, it’s been a great way to test what it takes for us to work together to review, potentially revise, and sign an agreement.

  4. Relax the NDA when necessary. I understand that investors, entrepreneur programs, and others won’t sign NDA’s. I understand why, and I’m not going to run away from these folks and these opportunities. Rather, I’ll need to be clear with them when I am disclosing what I consider to be my confidential IP.

Until I have a product design that’s more concrete and customer-tested, it seems this’ll be my strategy for now.

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