It isn’t the size of your bank account, but your ideas that matter. For example, even before you make your first sale, your company likely has a name, a logo, a business plan, customer list, and maybe even a new invention. All of these assets are worthy of considering when protecting your start-up.

Many start-up companies are unsure about when it is the right time to register trademark, file patent applications, and take other steps to protect their intellectual property. The short answer — it is imperative to act quickly. Once you have the proper legal mechanisms in place, you will be able to defend your IP from others who may try to use it without authorization.

Trademark Registration

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods or services of one party from those of others. For start-ups, the most important marks to register are your company's name and/or logo.

While formal registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is not required, it is certainly advisable. As part of the trademark registration, you will be required to perform a trademark search, which not only helps ensure your application will not be denied for being “confusingly similar” to an existing mark, but also prevents you from wasting time and money by selecting a company logo or name that is already owned by someone else. Federal registration also creates a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and provides the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods or services listed in the registration.

Copyright Registration

Copyright protection protects works of authorship, such as writings, music, and works of art. Because a copyright exists from the moment the work is created, formal registration with the U.S. Copyright Office is not required. However, it does help ensure that your rights are fully protected. For example, registering a copyright allows owners to collect statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation.

Patent Application

A patent establishes property rights in an invention. The USPTO confers the exclusive rights to make and use the invention for 20 years in exchange for public disclosure of the invention. In addition to patenting a product, protection is also available for software and business processes. Particularly in the technology industry, owning and licensing a patent can be extremely lucrative.

Non-disclosure Agreements

Maintaining secrecy is often imperative when launching a start-up. A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) prohibits third parties, such as employees, consultants, and business partners, from revealing your confidential information, including trade secrets. Most importantly, an NDA provides legal remedies should the other party share the information without authorization, including injunctions to prevent further disclosure, liquidated damages, and recovery of legal fees and costs.

Data Security Policies

Start-ups should also take steps to internally secure their proprietary data. Common sense tips include securing important documents using locked file cabinets or password protection, depending on how they are stored. Access should also be limited to only those employees who absolutely need it. Finally, make sure you create secure backups of all digital files.

If you have any questions or can offer insight in how protecting your start up can be beneficial for business owners. Feel free to leave a comment below.