Protecting Intellectual Property for the Food Tech Industry
Intellectual Property – the word may be unknown to many but the concept of protecting one’s creations and inventions is not. In fact, Intellectual property is part of the U.S. constitution as a fundamental right and through IP rights, innovators felt safe enough to contribute their protected ideas to build, grow and industrialize the United States. Similarly, most nations in the world have based their Intellectual Property Regulations and Systems on the United States; so if you understand how it works in the U.S. you will understand how it works in your country!
Protecting your ideas, inventions, solutions, business methods or creative works from others who seek to copy or infringe you is a necessary step in building value for your company or entrepreneurial venture. Ideas in themselves are not protectable. Thus, one must take the intellectual idea out of one’s mind and physically embody it in some sort of invention (patent), brand or logo (trademark) or as an expression of a creative or artistic work (copyright)
What is a patent?
An invention, or an idea physically embodied or based in science (biology, chemistry or physics) or engineering (electrical, mechanical or computer) can be protected for 20 years as a patent in most countries. The patent is a federal or national right to exclude others from coming into their scientifically or technically described space. The patent owner has an exclusive monopoly after the inventor has proven that their invention is in fact novel, non-obvious and is in fact the first inventor to file (or publish) a patent application. An IP right is similar to other property rights. Like any piece of real or personal property one can license it, sell it, use it as collateral for a loan, or use it as the number one value asset.
For companies in the food/life science industry, their patent portfolio is likely their biggest asset. In addition, understanding how trade secrets play into your patent strategy is a business decision that all such companies will face one day! It is most important for food science and food tech companies to strategize as to what path they should embark on, patent or trade secrets. Regardless of what path they choose, having an iron clad Non disclosure agreement and possibly a provisional patent application on file is the surest way to ensure that either your patent or trade secret protection is not forfeited unintentionally or statutorily!
What is a trademark?
A National or Federal trademark is a right bestowed to a creator of a word, logo, sound or smell that is symbolic of a good or service which one sells to at least one customer in another state in order to satisfy interstate commerce (the buying and selling or goods among the states) requirements. The right also gives the trademark holder the power of exclusion to keep others from using a same or similar mark for a same or similar goods or service. The trademark right lasts ten years and is renewable for as many additional ten year periods as long as one continues to use the mark in the way they have indicated to the trademark office. Trademarks like all other forms of Intellectual Property are territorial, meaning if you want protection in a particular country then you must have the corresponding trademark or form of Intellectual Property registered in that country!
For companies in the food industry, branding (trademarks, slogans, colors, packaging etc.) will be everything, so protecting it at all costs, even after registration, may be required. It is important that all food companies get some clearance on the brands and logos they are proposing to use before they put them into commerce in a particular country. This would require a search of trademarks that are on file before you in the country where you want to commercialize. A food company should also strive to get themselves on file with a Trademark Office first for superior rights and not rely on being the first to use their trademark in commerce which has limited rights!
What is copyright?
A copyright is the protection a creator gets to the expression of one’s ideas that are fixed in tangible medium and which are original. For example, song lyrics written on a piece of paper, audio visuals on a cd or film reel, a painting on a canvas, etc. A copyright is an automatic intellectual property right that vests in the creator of a work and for a fee, the creator or owner of the work can register it with the Copyright office in your particular country. The rights of copyright last for the creator’s life plus an additional 70 years. The copyright rights include: the right to stop others from copying the work, displaying the work, performing the work, making a derivative work of the work by altering the work, or publishing the work. For companies in the food space, copyright protection over your website design, marketing and social media content and other creative works will become a valuable asset to your IP portfolio.
As a food company, whether you are a CPG company or one based in the life sciences, all 3 forms of IP may be needed! Having done a lot of work with investors who are interested in this space, securing some sort of intellectual property protection will be needed to take the next steps forward in your journey.
The food space, whether your company is plant based, alternative proteins, or cell derived meats, is a fast paced world. For every company not filing some sort of intellectual property there are 5 companies right behind you who are filing. With this in mind, trying to be efficient and of course economical with your IP filings is key!
For more information on protecting and registering your IP protection both in the US and abroad please call David Postolski at 6466442959 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Postolski, Esq., Partner Gearhart Law LLC, is a mentor for the Big Idea Ventures Accelerator Programs run out of our New York, Paris and Singapore offices. Twice a year, we select the best pre-seed companies for our five month accelerator program, where we help break down barriers to scaling a start-up successfully. As part of the program we make a total investment of US$200K, with the potential for up to US$2.5M in follow-on investment.
The Big Idea Ventures team is always on the lookout for innovative alternative protein companies. If you are an early-stage startup looking for investment and support, reach out to us here. If you are a corporate or an investor interested in investing in the space, reach out to us here.
Reach out to David here:
(908) 608-8119 direct
(908) 273-0700 office
(908) 273-0711 fax
(646) 644-2959 mobile