There is no doubt that crowdfunding is a real game changer. Since its advent, the concept has paved the way for countless innovators raise funds for their ideas, as well as test the market and build a following in the same breath.
Indeed, with crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter, to name just a few, there has never been a better time to have a great idea and a more opportune moment to get it out there.
However, crowdfunding also comes with its own drawbacks, the bulk of which can be summed up to one thing: someone getting there before you. Or more accurately, someone selling a similar idea—and succeeding—before you can even get off the ground. Sad to say, this is an all too real scenario as counterfeiters, particularly those in China, are becoming more and more adept at creating versions—often inferior—of people’s inventions. Some even have the gall to use original marketing materials!The benefits of crowdfunding seem endless, as well. For one thing, it provides numerous platforms for exposure and publicity by leveraging social media. This, of course, makes it easier for startups to validate their ideas and have an active dialogue with target demographics. Best of all, all of these can be enjoyed at very little to no equity and with less risk.
With this distinct possibility in mind, innovators and startups are starting to wonder if crowdfunding is, in fact, worth it. The answer is: absolutely! However, Stephen Key, an expert on copyright infringement, has some very valuable advice to protect you in the process. Here are a few:
THERE ARE TOOLS YOU CAN USE TO PROTECT YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THEM.
The United States Patent and Trademark office has tools that can protect your design and other intellectual property. These are patents, trademarks, and copyrights. You have probably heard of them. Unfortunately, not many people know how to take the first step to acquire them.
First thing’s first—do not jump the gun and file a patent straightaway. Rather, opt to apply for a provisional patent first as this faster. It costs more, of course, but in the startup world where brilliant ideas are being churned out every second, speed is absolutely essential.
When you have a brand, you need to get it trademarked and fast. A good rule of thumb is to include various versions of your brand name.
Know that you only have 12 months to file for a patent in the United States after you have shared your idea with the world. Many foreign countries do not have this grace period, however, so filing too early or too late spell doom for your intellectual property. Timing is everything.
HAVE INVENTORY READY TO GO.
Like we said, speed is everything in all aspects of crowdfunding. Most startups fail because they neither have the experience or know-how to develop a product and manufacture it fast. Unfortunately, Chinese copycats operate at break-neck speed. You need to get your products out there before they do. It is really as simple as that.
IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM, WORK WITH THEM.
Say what you will about Chinese manufacturers—it is undeniable that they are fast. So instead of fighting them, consider working with them to manufacture your product. After all, they have the right experience and manufacturing savvy. However, protect yourself with the right paperwork. A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) just won’t cut it. What you need is a “non-use, non-disclosure and non-circumvention agreement (NNN).” It’s a mouthful, but it’s the protection you need.
Another thing you can do is file for a trademark in China. As they operate on a “first to file” basis, the only way you can get trademark protection in the country is by registering with the PRC Trademark Office before anyone else.
DON’T MAKE TOO MUCH NOISE.
True, when it comes to crowdfunding, you want to be noticed as much as possible. However, pushing for too much money too soon and making too much noise on social media will make you a prime target for copycats. By staying just above the radar and generating a modest buzz, there is a good chance you will be overlooked by intellectual property thieves, though you will already gain the “proof of concept” you need in the process.