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Building A Unicorn Startup: 3 Ways to Protect Your Intellectual Property

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Intellectual Property

Names like Uber, Airbnb, Grammarly, Snapchat, Pinterest, and others on the same note make you think about successful businesses with a fulminant rise. But did you know they are also unicorns?

No, not the white horse with a horn kind – the $1 billion startup kind.

Put more plainly, all these businesses started as startups (low cost and innovation) and their products or services were so well appreciated that they have now reached the valuation of $1 billion.

The name of unicorns was used because, at the time, such occurrences were rare. For comparison, when the name was first used, there were about 40 unicorn startups in the whole world. Now, it’s a common occurrence, with about 280+ unicorns in the US, 130+ in China, and about 150 more spread all over the world.

Now, the term varies, depending on the part of the world (for instance, Canadian unicorns are called narwhals), but it applies exclusively to startups. So, how does one build a startup and grow it to unicorn status?

If you take a closer look at some of the most famous unicorns, you will notice one common element – they all invested heavily in Intellectual Property (IP) protection. Patents, trademarks, copyright, and other legal tools were all used to make sure their ideas and innovation can be turned into profit (and it was worth it!).

Therefore, if there’s a lesson to learn from their example, it is knowing how to protect Intellectual Property. And, in honor of this lesson, here are the top three legal tools one can use to protect IP:

#1: Patents

Patents are some of the first legal tools that come to mind when you want to protect an invention, but they are not always the best option. These tools are strictly designed to protect inventors in order to allow them to make their creations commercially available and make a profit.

However, patents can be expensive and difficult to get, so you must first make sure it’s the best path for your startup. Also, you cannot patent an idea – you need a detailed description of your invention (which can be a process, a machine, manufactured materials, or a composition of matter). If you decide a patent is the right tool to protect your IP, make sure to read the requirements before submitting an application. It’s also a good idea to hire a patent attorney who can guide you through the process.

#2: Trademarks

One can use trademarks to protect the elements that are unique for the image of your brand. These can be anything from a logo, a phrase, or a symbol that is usually associated with your brand.

The best example that comes to mind is Nike and its trademarks that made the brand easy to recognize all over the world. Some of these trademarks are the name, the swoosh symbol, and the “just do it” slogan. This means that no other company can use these without suffering the consequences.

When it comes to startups, trademarks make more sense as they allow entrepreneurs to create a unique brand image that will later be associated with all their products or services.

This might differ depending on your location. For example, US trademark laws are stricter than the EU ones, and they differ from state to state. Thus a federal trademark law carries the most weight, and each country has its own state laws. So if you live in California, it would be best to contact a California based trademark lawyer.

#3: Copyright

Under copyright law, the creator of original material has the right to ask for compensation if their work is used without their authorization. However, in order to benefit from copyright law protection, the author has to submit their work (in tangible form) as an Original Work of Authorship (OWA).

Still, it’s important to keep in mind that copyright laws are different from state to state or country to country and they don’t cover ideas, brand names, slogans, domain names, and others on the same note. Therefore, it’s mandatory to do your research.

In Summary

With an abundance of great ideas and innovations, Intellectual Property is the new currency of the land (so to speak). As a result, more people will be interested in the legal tools to protect their creations. This also means that, if you have a great idea, there’s no time to waste – leap into action before anyone else protects a similar idea and takes away your dreams of becoming the next owner of a unicorn startup!


Kossi Adzo is the editor and author of He is software engineer. Innovation, Businesses and companies are his passion. He filled several patents in IT & Communication technologies. He manages the technical operations at

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