What’s in a name?

In a b-eye network article Bill Inmon reminds us of the importance of patents, especially for small start-up companies.  The current case against Blackberry is indeed a salient reminder that a patent infringement can bring very serious consequences even to a market-leading company.  I would go further than Bill in suggesting that start-ups need to seriously consider all their intellectual property, which as a well as patent applications extends to trademarks also. 

Patents can take a long time to sort out – Kalido’s core design patent was applied for in 1998 yet only granted in 2003 in the UK, and in 2005 in the US.  Certainly the US patent office is a curious beast which has many quirks, but being fast moving is not one of them.  However once you have a patent application in you can claim “patent pending” and are pretty much protected (unless of course, the patent application is rejected).  Start-ups need to consult with a patent lawyer early on if they are to avoid trouble.  For example, if you market something, which can constitute a demo a beta version of your product to a prospect, then you have 12 months to register for a patent on it or you may invalidate any future patent application.  It would be easy to see how someone could fall on this kind of legal tripwire.

The name of your company or product is also worth protecting via trademark in the countries that you expect to be marketing in.  This is less troublesome than it used to be thanks to some international reciprocal arrangements that mean you no longer have to file a trademark in every country individually.  However some countries (including the US) are not yet signatories to this accord.  There are several unfortunate cases of products being marketed and then suddenly discovering that they violated a trademark in a key market.  The costs of either withdrawing the launch, rebranding or fighting a court case can be very high, especially compared to the relatively modest costs of registering trademarks in the first place. 

You would hope by now that people would have figured out that registering web addresses is a free-for-all, yet you still see cases in the newspapers of well-known companies finding that that the natural internet address of their latest product has just been hijacked by some guy in Oklahoma who would like a large some of money for it, thank you very much. 

All these aspects, web names, trademarks and patents, need to be considered carefully even by the smallest start-up.  There are costs to be incurred, but the alternative can be disastrous, and patents in particular can be a genuine asset down the line.