Managing intellectual property: Startups and IP

Often, the majority of the value of a technology or biotechnology company lies in its intellectual property (IP). Startups, therefore, need to take stock of their intellectual property—both to protect it and to maximize its commercial potential. Intellectual property can include patents, confidential information, trademarks and copyright.

Managing your IP: Take stock

In taking stock of intellectual property (IP), look for the following items that you may own now or develop later.


Patents protect inventions. If there is a product or process that is new, is not an obvious invention and has some practical use, it might be patented. It is usually worth getting a patent for inventions that are central to the company’s business goals. This can protect the company’s core business and may provide revenue if other companies need to pay to use your patented product or processes.

Confidential information

Confidential information is private know-how. Keeping a product or process secret—protecting it as confidential information—can be the best intellectual property protection.

Unlike a patent, there is no term for confidential information. As long as it can be kept confidential, it belongs to the company, whereas a patent expires and becomes public property after 20 years. Nevertheless, protection is only available as long as the information is kept confidential and keeping the information confidential could be an onerous task.


A company builds recognition and a client-base for its brand name and the brand of its products. This recognition accrues value known as goodwill to the company. Therefore it is important to protect the names and logo of the company through trademark protection.

Unlike patents, it is not necessary to register a trademark to claim ownership, but you do gain broader protection if you register your company’s name and trademarks. Registration also makes it much easier to challenge those infringing your rights.


Copyright protects artistic works such as books and music. The author has the right to copy and control the work. Copyright protection occurs automatically when the work is put into a tangible form. For high-tech companies copyright is usually given less material value than is a patent or trademark. Nevertheless, copyright can provide an important way to protect ownership of web pages and software.


Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). (2009, November 11). Retrieved November 25, 2009, from