Can you foster growth with a Intellectual Property strategy? Yes you can.

 

provisional patent

KimboCare has obtained a “provisional patent” for its novel “Health Credits” concept, hitting a major milestone on our growth strategy. Deciding what to patent and timing to file, was confusing and somewhat daunting, until we understood why we had to. In this article, we’re sharing our own journey with the hope it helps fellow founders out there, navigate the way towards protecting their inventions.

Taking a step back. What is Intellectual Property (IP)?

IP is defined as the exclusionary rights given to authors, investors and businesses, which protect their literary and artistic works or authorship, useful and ornamental inventions and valuable information against awful use, sale or copy by a third party.

Each company owns data, ideas, inventions or works that have value, such as their list of customers, software, an innovative product or their trademark, and which can therefore be protected by IP rights.

There are four major types of IP:

1. Trade secrets, or confidential information

2. Trademarks

3. Copyrights

4. Patents

All inventions generally start with an inventor’s trade secret, and typically require additional IP protection as they become public. Unfortunately, too many early stage startups tend to prioritize relatively temporary operational challenges (e.g., limited demand for product, absence of skilled labor, access to fundraising, etc.), and neglect filing for IP rights, which leaves their inventions at the mercy of the competition.

How to use IP rights to protect your business?

To effectively protect their ideas, entrepreneurs need to use at least one of the four major types of IP. Each serves a different purpose and, when combined, they constitute a more robust and well-rounded protection, depending on the startup’s objectives. Take a can of Coca-Cola®, for example. The brand, “Coca-Cola” is a trademark. The formula for the actual soda is a trade secret, while copyright law protects the packaging art. Both a design patent and a trademark (i.e., trade dress) can protect the shape of the Coca-Cola® bottle.

Startups need to address select key questions to lay out a winning IP strategy:

  • What is the company trying to accomplish? What is the business goal?
  • Which IP tools are appropriate to deliver on business goals — a trade secret, trademark, copyright, patent — and why?
  • Do we need a patent? How long can we protect our idea without it?

Once the strategy is defined, the company has to acquire and exploit the chosen IP protection to maximize value. Well beyond a litigation instrument, startups can leverage IP rights as new, enduring revenue streams (e.g., licensing).

What about patents?

According to Investopedia, a patent is “a government license that gives the holder exclusive rights to a process, design or new invention for a designated period of time.” Patents allow the startup to prevent competitors from using their technology, which is a feature that can grant unique advantages in the marketplace. Patents in the U.S. are usually granted for a period of 20 years.

Patents are often regarded as the IP type with the highest value, but they also tend to be expensive. They are complex documents and require substantial investment of both time and resources. Startups are likely to hire specialized patent expertise and legal counsel to develop patent documents, and will go through a lengthy examination process with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) to secure first the provisional patent, and then the final patent. Several sources, including the USPTO, have reported that a basic patent filing can take anywhere from 2.5 to 5 years to complete.

So, should early-stage startups file for a patent?

Patent filing is one of the most controversial topics discussed out there. Very reputable sources recommend against it, while others, just as reputable, insist it’s a necessity. When it comes to our own experience with KimboCare, we did not file right away. Why?

  • With scarce resources, we had to prioritize spending on starting up operations.
  • We had an idea, but we had yet to engage all the relevant expertise to test, design and refine our concept and we knew that we still had to learn a lot from this experience.
  • We had to launch the service and test it with real customers, where we also gained invaluable feedback.

As Paul Graham, venture capitalist and co-founder of Y Combinator, notes, about 70–100% of new start-ups have a different core idea at the heart of their business by the end of the first 3 months of operation. It is in the execution of your idea that you achieve true, fit-for-purpose innovation, one that actually may sell and generate profits.

A few months on from our pilot launch in Africa, we realized we were in that sweet spot. Our sales had begun to pick up, with customers increasingly embracing KimboCare and our value proposition. Additionally, competitors had begun to follow our lead and alter their business models to mimic ours — unfortunate, but it reinforced the value we brought to the market. We also had a forward-looking approach; we saw in the patent a powerful asset to help de-risk our business and retain overall value.

KimboCare has now obtained a “provisional patent” for its novel “Health Credits” concept. Our health credits are “tokens” that allow secure and expedited access to healthcare services via a fully digitized transparent process; a game changer in enabling healthcare access for financially underserved populations. Want to learn more, or give our “health credits” a try? Go to www.kimbocare.com!

We want to hear about your experience protecting your inventions. Chat with us below, or share this article with others in your circle who may benefit from it!

By Murielle TiamboFranck TiamboMarie-Francoise Mbaye and Martin Ciupa