By Kate Toporski, CFE Content Development Intern

Since the creation of the internet, this question has become the most common, and important one to ask: how do I protect what’s mine? Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan Law School and U-M CFE Entrepreneurship Law Clinic Expert, Bryce Pilz, shares the three most critical things to learn about intellectual property for those just starting out:

1) Who owns it?  IP rights can generally only be transferred with a written agreement, so if you have someone developing code for your startup, you need to have them sign a document transferring rights in that IP to your company (even if you are paying them).  Even founders and employees much transfer IP rights to the company in writing. Keeping IP shared within the company name, rather than individuals, can help prevent future conflict.

2) What’s in a Name? Others can have trademark rights in a name even if they haven’t registered the trademark.  Make sure your company or product name is not similar to an existing name that might confuse customers.  Naming is an area where you are better safe than sorry.

3) When to share? If you think your invention is patentable, avoid publicly disclosing your invention prior to talking to a patent attorney and filing a patent application.  A public disclosure (telling the public about your invention in sufficient detail so that they could use it) that predates your patent application can harm your patent rights (at least internationally and possibly even in the U.S.).

If you’re interested in learning more about intellectual property, check out these upcoming events:


March 14, Lunch & Learn with a Patent Examiner

11:30 am – 12:30 pm, 1180 Duderstadt Center

Ever wonder how patents really get approved or rejected? Join the CFE and Michigan Libraries for a Lunch and Learn with Victoria Shumate, Patent Examiner from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Find out more about patenting right from the source, and get all your questions answered! Space is limited, so RSVP soon!

March 17, Intellectual Property 101

5 – 6pm, Lurie Engineering Center, 3rd Floor Johnson Rooms

Join the Graduate Society of Women Engineers and CFE to learn how to determine if what you’ve created is unique, and how to protect and personally, professionally, and economically benefit from your creations.

Empowerment via Entrepreneurship is a new partnership between the Center for Entrepreneurship and the Graduate Society of Women Engineers aiming to empower engineering of all genders and races through entrepreneurial skills and education. Be on the lookout for future seminars, talks, and events for furthering your entrepreneurial efforts!

For more expert intellectual property advice from Bryce, check out his educational video series here!