Law for Startups: IP, Domain Names, Trademarks and Patents
This video is the seventh and final part of a series of videos created by Anthony Rose, Founder and CEO of SeedLegals, who’d like to share his thoughts, advice, mistakes, and learnings from his extensive career in startups, so that you can avoid the same mistakes and get off to a running start when creating yours.
At a certain point you will need an app/company name and a domain. We can’t give you much more than the obvious advice that your name should be unique. The key thing is to road test the potential names and to not fall in love with one too early. You will need a company name to be able to incorporate, get a bank account, get an office space, etc. The good news is that you can change your company name fairly easily.
Anthony brought around 20 different domains before deciding on SeedLegals. He started off with a whole load of funky legalistic names (for example Lex Motion) but when he came to road-testing these he found they were generally too complicated. Another name he came up with was KickLegals which he liked until he realised it sounded like he was trying to “kick the legal professions”! Finally, inspired by the age old concept of “do what is says on the tin”, he combined two key words “seed” and “legal” to create SeedLegals. Often it can be a good choice to go with those two key words that represent your business, but going for something crazy can also work (think Moonpig.com!).
When it comes to domains do you go for a dot come, a dot io, or something else? Anthony’s suggestion is that if you’re in a B2B space it is usually best to go with a dot come, whereas if you’re in a millennial space it doesn’t really matter what your domain is as long as it’s SEO-able.
The next thing you’ll want to think about is trademarking (which is something you need to do very early on!). Trademarking costs roughly £200 in the UK, $500 in the US and a few hundred dollars in other territories.
Like domain names, there are a lot of people with somewhat similar trademarks which means it can be easy to run into problems. You can do an online search or go to the UK or US trademark office to check if your name has already been trademarked - sometimes the answer will be definitive and sometime it wont (grey area situations can arise when your name sounds phonetically similar to someone else or is distinguished from another’s name by a suffix or a prefix etc.)
You can either go to a trademark lawyer for advice or try to wing it yourself depending on how much money you have available.
Once you file your trademark, if there are no objections. It will typically be processed within a couple of months. If someone does object, then there is a dispute resolution method which you can embark on. If you get in this situation you will need to decide either to give up on that trademark and pick another one or to go fight the objection.
Anthony personally thinks patents are a ridiculous concept. They may have made more sense decades ago, in a time where it took a huge amount of effort and time to build something and people may have been deterred by the threat of others cashing in on their ideas. These days there are an endless number of ideas and they are often built faster than a patent office issues a patent.
Patents are like nuclear weapons, other countries have them and so if you want to be a superpower you have to have them too. Particularly if you’re in a space that has a lot of patented IP you may well have to invest the time for patents and your investors may also be looking to see if you have taken the time to do this.
You want to file a patent before you’ve publicly disclosed it. So don’t open source the cool thing that you’re working on, release your product, or share your UX diagrams before you’ve filled the patent, otherwise you may find it’s harder or impossible to patent them.
Anthony recommends taking the time to:
1. Infuse your team to think about the things they’re doing that are patentable. This helps create a great team culture and also helps the team to start thinking about doing things in the right way.
2. Research what other people have patented in your particular space and see how open the field is. Look at the claims as well as the inventions.
3. In the early stages, potentially try to spend a modest amount to file a few patents. This will potentially please future investors, however, be aware that you will likely need to keep putting money in this pot long after you have filled the patents (for example on lawyer’s fees to fight against objections to your patents).
4. Focus on the patent claim that you want and then work backwards to your invention. If you decide something will be valuable in that space, you can figure out what you need to do to be able to satisfy that claim.