IP for startups: It starts with strategy

Intellectual property can be a powerful weapon in your startup’s arsenal. It can protect you from competitors using your tech, and it can drastically improve how valuable your company is: If your IP is stopping a big company from doing what it wants, that could, in itself, be a good enough reason for acquiring you.

In this new series, we are talking to Michele Moreland, who is a general partner at Aventurine, which is taking an IP-first approach to investing. Michele has been at the cutting edge of IP strategy throughout her career and has been responsible for $3 billion in patent verdicts as a portfolio strategist. As a trial lawyer, Michele represented some of the most important tech companies of our time, including Qualcomm, Amgen and Nvidia.

So, what’s IP? Well, it refers to “creations of the mind,” such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, names, and images used in business. Some IP is automatic (e.g., this article is automatically covered by copyright because I wrote it), and other IP — such as trademarks and patents — need to be protected more actively.

In this series, we take a deep dive into the various types of IP — including patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets — seen through the lens of early-stage startups. As a startup founder, what do you need to think about — where and when, and how much will it cost — when protecting the IP your company is creating?

Start with the “why”

“Oftentimes, people think they just need to get the patent, because it checks a box for VCs,” Moreland said. “But if you really want IP to be a scaffold for the business and potentially create value, and maybe offer support in the context of a future exit, you need to take a broader view.”

The considerations are manyfold, but it starts with thinking about where your company is in the market and the space you take up vis-à-vis your competitors. This includes thinking about your company’s geographic location and that of your customers and potential acquirers. You need to think about the types of IP that may support your business and the people who need to be involved in the strategy and execution of your intellectual property approach.

“I think there are certain people in the company that get left out of the mix. That may be a mistake. From my litigation experience, I’ve seen that outcomes may have been different if certain marketing people had been part of early conversation about IP,” Moreland said. “Starting from the 100,000-foot view, the conversation starts with ‘Where are we?’ and ‘Where do we want to go?’”

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