Tag Archives: Trade Secrets and Know How

How to stay in control and avoid giving too much away during the pitch process

The Pitch Process – How Much Should You Reveal?

How to stay in control and avoid giving too much away during the pitch process

It can be difficult to know how much to reveal about your business during the pitch process. If you’re pitching in a public forum, should you risk giving your original ideas away? Is the exposure and possible investment funding worth the risks?

During the pitch process you are necessarily disclosing information about your business plans in order to impress a potential investor or client. The need to find the right balance between disclosure and secrecy is crucial for the protection of your intellectual property.

Seeking funding

In situations where a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) can be used, that might be a solution to the problem. However, in practice it’s unlikely that potential investors would be willing to sign NDAs. It’s more to your advantage that they hear what you have to say than it is to theirs to listen to you.

Statistically there are a lot more people looking for investment than there are investors. Moreover, while non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) protect you don’t take too much comfort from the mere signing of a confidentiality agreement.

Beware of others stealing your best ideas

If you have an idea which the other party could implement better than you – such as the situation that arose for the Winklevoss twins who shared their concept for Facebook with Mark Zuckerburg – then avoid going to them for investment if you have a potentially lucrative idea. Or if it is essential that you communicate the information to a third party without the benefit of an NDA in order to progress it, could you perhaps reveal the broad idea without going into too much detail?.

Another aspect that is worth considering is conducting a background search about the potential investor or client. Checking their reputation might provide useful ways to assess how much information is safe to reveal to them.

It’s important to be mindful of your business before divulging information. With some ideas you simply shouldn’t discuss them without an NDA if loss of confidentiality would lose you the opportunity to patent the concept. What if you have an idea for a product-based concept – such as Mandy Haberman’s Anywayup Cup? You would lose the opportunity to patent if you don’t use an NDA. Mandy Haberman could not have succeeded had she not patented the cup before going to market.

Patent pending applications

In practice, it is a mistake to go to an investor without having first applied for patent protection. Once you have a patent pending, you could proceed to raise funds. The costs associated with such first filing are not as high as you might assume.

The initial filing gives you 12 months’ protection worldwide, and an inventor who has intellectual property like a patent application, will be more attractive to a potential investor.

Names need protecting

Another issue to consider is protecting the name you want to use for new products and services you’ll be discussing while pitching in public. If you haven’t protected the name you are at risk. This is because names are not protected by copyright and a member of the audience could easily steal the idea, register the name as a trade mark and gain the benefit of all the publicity you generate.

Do take advice on names as there are many pitfalls for the unwary. If the name you are using is not legally effective, and suitable for your business, you might waste your resources in applying to register trade marks.

In conclusion, any ideas or names you have for a new business concept or product that you might want to divulge during a pitch are worth discussing with an IP lawyer before divulging them to others. Our IP Audit offering is the ideal way to access such advice. It includes a search, templates, and videos too.to help you protect the future value of your ideas, products and services.

Shireen will be discussing this topic on the panel at the 4th Drum Brief Encounters Conference on 20th of October. It’s at the Congress Centre in London. You can book at http://briefencountersthedrum.com./.

How to stay in control and avoid giving too much away during the pitch process

Intellectual Property Revolution – Book Launch – Video Highlights

IP Revolution Book Launch 1

The Intellectual Property Revolution, my second book, was launched with great success on 13 October 2015 at the Institute of Directors in London.

For those of you who were unable to attend the event the next best thing is to watch the videos of the night.

Daniel Priestley of Entrevo, who runs a global entrepreneurship accelerator programme known as Key Person of Influence (that I myself have attended) gave the introductions for the night.

He also took us through the ages pointing out that at one time it was ownership of land that enabled people to build fortunes, these people built themselves a reputation and became influential. Then after this agricultural age came the industrial revolution where people built their fortunes by  owning the means of production. In the digital economy it is intellectual property that is the means to building fortunes. He said millennials would rather spend all their time and money to build start-ups  than purchasing houses or land.

 

Next up was Will Critchlow of Distilled, CEO of a digital marketing agency based in London with offices in the USA. He reinforced the importance of using the right name and protecting intellectual property rights very early on, an issue he himself had encountered at the early stages of his business ventures while at school. Intellectual Property, in particular securing a trade mark helps provide businesses big or small with strong foundations to securely expand and build a reputation they establish. This will strengthen branding strategies becoming real investments rather than failing later on.

 

 

Then finally, I spoke about the importance of taking early IP advice in order to position yourself for maximum value if you succeed, and reduce the risk of disaster. When overlooked, IP can be damaging to the core features of any business. For example, a poor choice of name can be a real set back. This is something I discuss in more detail in my blog Intellectual Property Value – Do You Need Specialist Skills to Value IP?

IP is so important to any business, as the internet now dominates our daily lives, it is the ownership of these intangibles which is so necessary to protect. At Azrights, we offer a fixed price service that provides early stage businesses with comprehensive advice concerning Intellectual Property rights and strategic building of them.

 

There was a chance for guests to mingle over canapes and here are some vox pox and highlights of the event. The vox pox discussions give some insight into why attendees believe IP is so important in today’s society.

While the highlights below will give you a general flavour of the eventful evening.

Since the launch, I have revised the conclusion of the book, as this was a chapter I struggled to write last year. At the time, I wanted to finish the book so I used something. However, having had time to  reflect over the festive period, I have changed the conclusion, and am now very happy that the book will be an easy, insightful read for businesses interested in IP.

The new conclusion fits much better with the book as a whole being a kind of synopsis of the book and summarises the transformative effects of Intellectual Property rights. If you don’t have time to read the whole book, you’d now get a strong indication of what the book is all about by reading just the conclusion and perhaps revisiting the book when time allows.

‘iWatch’ Trade Mark – Apple In Multimillion Trademark Dispute

shutterstock_472863_jpgIn April this year Apple released their newest product – the Apple Watch. Only a few months after the release date a petition was filed in a Milan court accusing Apple of violating the iWatch trade mark. You may recall that in 2012 the tech giant agreed to pay $60m to Chinese firm Proview to settle a dispute involving rights to the “iPad” name. Now another high-profile dispute is on its way.

The dispute

On 26 June an Irish sAppleWatchoftware development company Probendi filed an urgent procedure concerning Apple’s use of the name owned by them – iWatch. Although their “iDevices” have been very popular, Apple did not use this name for their watch. It seems they have learnt their lesson from 2012 because their innovative watch is in fact called ‘Apple watch’. They probably knew this name was already owned by another company. The problem is not, therefore, in the name of the product.

Apple has, however, used the ‘iWatch’ name in another way. In our blog Bidding on competitors’ trademark in Adwords we wrote about Adwords and trade mark infringement. Both issues seem relevant in this dispute as well. It is a fact that Apple paid for Google AdWords to use the term ‘iWatch’. When users search for iWatch on Google, they are directed to Apple’s store even though this was not the actual name of this product. As Probendi’s petition claimed, “Apple has systematically used iWatch wording on Google search engine in order to direct customers to its own website advertising Apple Watch.”

Probendi’s plans

While Apple managed to settle with the Chinese company Proview and buy out the rights in the ‘iPad’ name, it is more likely than not that they will not succeed to do this with Probendi.

Probendi co-founder and CEO Daniele Di Salvo said the company had warned Apple against using this term.

It is expected that the Irish company will take full advantage of its registered trade mark. Di Salvo said his company plans to develop their own ‘smart watch’ which will run on Android and have a touchscreen display too. It is not difficult to guess what its name would be. Probendi’s iWatch will benefit from all must-have features and undercut the Apple Watch in price.

Bloomberg reports about an audit conducted by Barzano & Zanardo valuing the iWatch trademark at €87 million ($97 million) – significantly more than the $60 million Apple paid Proview.

Google’s approach

Many companies have tried to challenge Google or its advisers over trademark use but more often than not these actions have been unsuccessful. Google’s policy terms for its ad service states that trade mark complaints are dealt with on a case-by-case basis and that certain restrictions may be enforced. Probendi’s lawyer has said no action was taken by either Apple or Google following their requests and objections.

It is fascinating to explore how powerful the right branding strategy could be – out of curiosity I asked a number of my friends what they thought the name of Apple’s watch was. Unsurprisingly, all of them were convinced it was ‘iWatch’. That’s the power of strong intellectual property and excellent marketing strategy.

Even though Apple tried not to repeat the mistake from 2012, Techradar summarise the issue by saying that “Apple is being sued for not using the iWatch name”. We will be expecting more information on 11 November when the hearing Is scheduled.

So far when you type ‘iWatch’ into Google search, the top result will be an ad for the Apple Watch followed by link to the Apple’s website.

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Protect Your Trade Secrets – Protect Your Business

Protect Your Trade Secrets – Protect Your BusinessNow that the European Parliament is in the process of introducing the new EU Trade Secrets Directive, we decided to put the spotlight on this topic and discuss in practical terms what trade secrets are, explain why employees are the biggest threat when it comes to trade secrets, and, most importantly, what steps employers should take to make sure their trade secrets are effectively protected.

What is a trade secret?

A TS is a valuable piece of information for an organisation which is treated as confidential and gives that organisation a competitive advantage. It could be any type of information, for example formulas, recipes, devices, patterns, client lists, financial information, new inventions, and more. The requirements are that the piece of information be

–          secret (or shared only in the context of confidentiality)

–          valuable in a commercial sense and by virtue of being secret

–          kept secret by its owner with reasonable efforts under the circumstances

To illustrate this, practical examples of ‘famous’ trade secrets include the Coca-Cola recipe, Google’s proprietary search algorithm, the Krispy Kreme Doughnut recipe or the KFC recipe. Actually, an enterprise needs to make a choice: either apply for a patent to protect the information if it is patentable, or brand it a trade secret and keep it strictly confidential (if possible).

If a patent application is made, however, the ingredients of the recipe or the details of the search algorithm will need to be disclosed and it will no longer be a secret. As a result, the business needs to balance the gain in terms of a monopoly right to use its information for a period of time, against the possible loss its competitive advantage.

That is why enterprises need to make sure they protect their trade secrets effectively. Obviously, employees would be the biggest threat to businesses when it comes to trade secrets. Sometimes  the reason for this is that employees leave their former employer with bad feelings or they want to climb the ladder faster at their new job. So. here are some practical tips for employers to take precautions.

  • NDA and Non-compete clause

The Non-disclosure agreement is a contract between the employer and the employee where the employee would agree to maintain the subject matter of the contract a secret. Via an NDA, the employer could contractually bind the employee to keep the information strictly confidential and as with every contract, if breached, could lead to the award of damages or an injunction.

Typically, an NDA would include a definition of the information to be kept confidential, any exclusions, the employee’s obligations once the information is received and the duration of the agreement. It is crucial that the information not to be disclosed is clearly and unequivocally defined so that there is no doubt on part of the employee as to what is or is not confidential. And although the duty of confidentiality is implied in the employer-employee relationship, it is essential for the employer to emphasise how important it is for a particular piece of information to be kept secret especially if that information gives the business its competitive advantage.

Another instrument could be the non-compete covenant which, in essence, prevents the employee from working for a direct competitor or starting a competitive business for a defined period of time after termination of the current employment. However, to be enforceable the non-compete covenant needs to be reasonable in that it cannot be too long or too restrictive.

  • Employee IP handbook and Promote Employee Loyalty

A good idea is to create an employee IP handbook where the company’s confidential policy is explained, the duties in relation to this policy are clearly listed and employees are regularly reminded of their obligation.

It is important to step in the shoes of the employee as well and think about employee loyalty as much as you think about customer loyalty. The relationship between employer and employee should be of mutual respect and confidence and any disagreements should be handled with the employee’s feelings in mind. As already mentioned, one of the reasons for terminated employees to take away with them secret information is because of the employment relationship ending badly. That is why employers need to make sure they give appropriate rewards and benefits and recognise employees’ loyalty.

  • Add labels ‘confidential’ and use codes

When revealing trade secrets, you could label it as “CONFIDENTIAL” as well as use codes for recipes, formulas or ingredients so that users do not know the exact information and have no direct access to the trade secret itself. It is better if you reveal the exact trade secret to a limited number of people, such as the more senior employees rather than giving any employee access to secret information.

  • Exit Interview

On leaving, it is advisable for the employer to conduct an exit interview with the employee – that is a well-conducted conversation to make sure the employee is reminded once again of his obligations. Ask him/her to confirm s/he has not taken any documents and has destroyed any that s/he had already had. Of course, this interview should not be conducted as if it is interrogation – the employer should find the balance between rightly underlining the obligations the employee has but at the same time avoid making the employee feel guilty or disloyal. If your business is very ‘trade secret sensitive’, that is, it is heavily dependent on trade secrets, you could take detailed notes at the exit interview and ask the employee to sign an acknowledgement that the notes are reflective of the meeting.

  • Send a letter to the new employer

To maximise your protection, provided there is a new employer of your former employee, you could also send a letter to the new employer to inform him/her of the situation – for example if you  suspect the employee has taken secret information and have reason to believe s/he might disclose it. By doing this, you will not only inform the employer of the employee’s potential leakage of trade secrets, but you also have a strong basis for a future lawsuit if the new employer knowingly allows his/her employee to disclose or use this information.

To sum up, it is vital to make sure trade secrets and their protection are top priority sooner rather than later because even if you have a strong case against the employee, once the trade secret is disclosed, it will be too late to protect the information. Therefore, precautions are the key to effective protection of trade secrets. Make sure you do that!