As the founder of a start-up, the last thing you want to focus on is legal matters. But that is exactly what Suresh Sambandam, founder of OrangeScape, a cloud software provider, decided to take on. And thanks to this, the start-up fended off a lot of legal trouble when UK-based telecom provider Orange filed an infringement case against the use of the name. Since the start-up had registered a trademark for the name, the Goliath retreated and withdrew the case.
Trademark is easy
The case of OrangeScape shows that doing the needful to protect your intellectual property will pay-off in the long term. But, “start-ups generally only want to do the absolute minimum when it comes to legal work, due to costs,” says Adheesh Nargolkar, Partner, Khaitan & Co, a law firm.
He says that registering your company’s trademark is simple and inexpensive, that a founder can do it by herself. All you need to do is search the database of trademarks with the registry for the same or similar sounding names.
You can also take the help of a lawyer who will do the necessary checks and register the name in the relevant classes based on your product or services. The registration takes up to two years for a smooth process, when there is no objection from the registry or a third party.
Sambandam says that while local trademark is easy, getting the same in multiple countries can be expensive. But it can be worth it, says Sudhir Ravindran, CEO of Altacit Global, a law firm. “Start-ups spend a lot of money and effort in SEO marketing of their brand name. Without registering their brand, they may end up at the receiving end of a legal notice for violation,” he says.
Apply for patents
Likewise, applying for provisional disclosure, which is the first step in the patent process, is beneficial and yet not complicated. Rajesh Swaminathan, co-founder and CEO of Bangalore-based Xsi Semiconductors, says that he has filed disclosures for two ideas and is in the process of filing four more.
“We also have two trademarks on our name and logo,” he says.
“Patents play an important role in increasing your company’s valuation in case of an exit,” says Sambandam, who has filed for one disclosure. He notes that having patentable ideas help during fund raising. If you have a valuable idea, file the initial disclosure at the earliest as priority is given to the one who applied first, says Nargolkar. At this stage, you do not need detailed diagrams, but just needs to cover the key facts relating to the invention. If cost is a constraint, you may not even need the help of an attorney for the filing, he says. You get one year to enhance the idea and file a detailed application. You should consider engaging a lawyer at this stage, as all aspects covered by the invention, especially the claims, must be crafted carefully.
Although the initial disclosure is easy, the full patenting process can be expensive and time consuming. Patents typically take three years to be granted in India. Filing patents in multiple countries can be complicated and cost anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000, says Sambandam. “You need to make an educated choice of what is the value of the idea.”
Additionally, while infringement on your innovation is easy to find in case of hardware, it is not easy to enforce software patents.“Software patents are not protected in India,” observes Ravindran. They are, however, protected in the US. Filing abroad may be beneficial in this case, but it is your call on whether you want to spend your resources in this process.