September 23, 2020

Eight IP Questions You Should Ask Before Starting Business in a New Country

A post previously published on this blog focuses on how to choose an export market for your business. While business leaders will focus on advantages each country presents for their enterprise, it is prudent to identify, evaluate, and mitigate those risks which may prevent their enterprise from achieving success (i.e., profitability).

The value of many businesses may be found in its intellectual property (IP). Protecting your IP is crucial to protecting your creativity or idea including time and expenses invested on research and development. Or, as Darren Heitner, an attorney based in Florida, explains in this article, "Owning intellectual property helps you protect from others using something identical or similar to your creation, brand or product, and can also create new sources of revenue should you desire to license your goods or services out to third parties. Without protection, you could end up spending a lot more money in defending against someone else or even rebranding, and miss out on commercial opportunities."

A blog post published by Matthew Dresden, an attorney with the Seattle, Wash.-based law firm Harris Bricken, presents eight questions "companies starting a business in a foreign country should ask about their own intellectual property before they start doing business in that foreign country, be it Mexico, Spain, Japan, Thailand or wherever."
  1. Can we adopt, use and register as trademarks the names we want to use for our products or services in the foreign country?
  2. Is any aspect of our IP new, inventive and useful and therefore potentially patentable in the foreign country or anywhere else relevant to our business?
  3. Have we instituted procedures to keep our potentially patentable inventions confidential until a patent application may be filed?
  4. Are there any third party patents that could prevent us from selling our services or products in the foreign country or even from manufacturing our products there or anywhere else?
  5. What aspects of our products or services are protected by copyright?
  6. Is the design of our product protectable as a design patent in the foreign country or elsewhere?
  7. Are there any third party design registrations that could prevent us from selling our product in the foreign country or elsewhere?
  8. Do we have written agreements with our foreign country employees and manufacturers that clearly assign to us any IP we create with them and that provide for maintaining the confidentiality of our information and our trade secrets?
In addition to answering these questions posed by Mr. Dresden, I can attest based on my experience that business leaders will need to determine whether or not the country they are considering provides a political culture which fosters a strong business environment. Such a business environment must include a legal and regulatory system that protects intellectual property rights.

What additional questions do you recommend business executives should ask before starting a business in a new country?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

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