Starting a new business can be tough. Whether you’ve quit your day job or you’re working hard on a side hustle, chances are your new venture – no matter how exhilarating! – has left you exhausted and running on a very tight budget. But if your business is based on a unique product or concept, then there’s just no way around it; you need to get a patent to protect your IP.
When I established my activewear brand, svvet, I considered the design of my tights was so unique I decided to patent the pattern. It can be an arduous process and I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve learned some lessons along the way, which might come in handy for startups considering a patent for their brand.
1. Do your research
In Australia, getting a patent is actually quite straight forward. Time consuming, but simple enough. IP Australia provides a load of info and guidance on the process so that would be your best place to start.
When it comes to getting an international patent, however, that’s a different story. Every country has its own patent laws and its own application process; it can be incredibly daunting. And of course, every application comes with its own fees too; if you’re limited by budget you’ll need to decide which patents you really need. Keeping in mind you need to lodge international patent applications within six months of your Australian one. So be sure to plan ahead and ensure you have enough budget within that short timeframe.
2. Think long term
Many businesses want a U.S. patent in addition to their Australian patent, which makes sense; the two markets are very similar. But every business has its own path; it’s important to think strategically and envisage where you want to see your business in 5, 10, or 20 years’ time to understand where you might most need your patent.
When I was researching patents for svvet, I had a limited budget and decided to forgo the U.S. in favour of a Chinese patent. This was largely a strategic move, based on the growing trend of wealthy Chinese consumers seeking out Australian brands. Additionally, having a manufacturing plant in China meant that I’d be covered should there be any issues. For me, a Chinese patent made more sense – but you need to make the right decision for your business.
3. Provide detailed proof
To get a patent, you need to prove exactly what’s unique about your product – that goes without saying. And the chances are, you can probably do this adequately with a description and a little sketch; enough to be granted the patent in the first place.
But what you need to remember is that this patent is there to protect you against anyone else trying to claim your idea as their own. Don’t just think about what you need to prove your concept to those reviewing your application. Ask yourself if your description is enough to help you prove, in court, that your idea is unequivocally your own. If you don’t have the skill, hire an illustrator to bring your concept to life so you have tangible proof of your concept.
Unfortunately, larger corporations have the ability to steal your idea, patent it for themselves and then sue you for using your own design. Which would be heartbreaking! The best thing you can do to protect yourself is ensure your patent is as specific as possible.
4. Know when to lawyer up
Whether or not you choose to hire a lawyer is up to you. Personally, I found the Australian process easy enough that I didn’t need a lawyer, but there’s no blanket rule on this and if in doubt, definitely research all your options.
For getting patents overseas, however, getting a lawyer is highly recommended. The whole process can be complicated enough without having to figure out how a foreign country operates. I needed a lawyer when applying for the Chinese patent; there was no way I could have navigated that minefield on my own.
When it comes to getting a patent, budgets are the killer – especially if you want to lodge in multiple countries. As a startup it doesn’t take long for the funds to run dry. Don’t leave it to the last minute to budget for your patent; remembering to include application fees, lawyers’ fees and everything else that goes with it.
Unfortunately, not getting a patent could end up proving more costly in the long term – it could potentially even cost you your business – so if you think you’re going to need a patent, be sure to research the fees thoroughly and set aside the budget in your planning stage.
Getting a patent isn’t easy; it’s a time-consuming process that seems to take away from your efforts of getting your business off the ground. But it really is one of those essential steps you can’t avoid. Do your research, understand the process, and just get it done. Because once your IP is covered, you can crack on with the best bit – getting your business up and running!