By Veronica Penney
The Denver-Boulder area is one of the best places on earth to start a company. Recently named a runner-up in the Compass Research Top 20 Global Startup Ecosystems ranking, Denver and Boulder are home to a growing number of entrepreneurs.
With an innovative community comes perks like Boulder Startup Week, an annual event aimed to celebrate startups and offer resources to innovators. This year, from May 16-20, over 200 free events are open to the public, including discussions, happy hours, networking events, and afterparties.
Presentations drew startup rock stars and tech experts from across the country to offer advice to the community. Apart from guidance, speakers acknowledge broader, overarching and important questions, like “Why the hell should a startup care about intellectual property?” and “How will tech policy affect me?”
Promise Phelon, CEO of TapInfluence, acknowledges that filing for patents to protect intellectual property can be a challenge early on in startups.
“When you’re running a company, if you don’t have the money, there’s no way to file a patent. You need money to file a patent,” admits Phelon. “If I were to go back and start my career over again, I would think about intellectual property in inflection points.”
According to Phelon, a good route is to make a product that people want to buy, perfect it and build it to scale, find funding, and then protect that intellectual property. In some situations, however, waiting this long to file a patent might be too late.
“In the United States, you have one year from the day that you sell your product, or the date that you disclose your invention outside of a nondisclosure agreement,” advises Mollybeth Kocialski, Regional Director of the Rocky Mountain USPTO.
After one year, you lose your intellectual property rights, which is why Kocialski warns that “inaction is actually an action in intellectual property.”
While researching where your technology will be and tracking down venture capital sources, “you need to be very very careful about what you’re disclosing. As a first-to-file system, he or she who wins the race to the patent office is the owner of that intellectual property,” cautions Kocialski.
Separating the roles that people play in the early brainstorming phases is another important consideration. In college, Phelon and one of her classmates came up with an idea, which Phelon turned into a company a year later.
“I went back and actually had to negotiate with her to release the rights for that idea back to me,” remembers Phelon.
“A lot of people are involved in that early ideation process, so the question when it comes to litigation is ‘whose idea is this?’” says Phelon.
The Importance of Tech Policy
Intellectual property issues are pretty immediate. Though Washington D.C. and the realm of public policy might feel a long way off, startups and developers stand to gain (and lose) the most from legislation.
Tim Hwang, a policy analyst for Google, tackled a presentation on “the year ahead in tech policy and why it should matter to you.”
Bills like PIPA and SOPA are important because “had they passed, they would have fundamentally changed how content and information moved around the web,” explains Hwang.
Hwang emphasizes the importance of developers and entrepreneurs getting engaged with policy issues to create an informed discussion. He recommends checking out websites like SlashPolicy to find information and get involved in the conversation.
“Engagement on this stuff is super spiky,” says Hwang. “The internet is really good at knocking threats away, but it’s not good at creating good policy over time. I think if we have a community around it, we’ll end up with better outcomes.”