I recently read a blog post about the plethora of pitches, competitions and conferences in the start-up world without a focus by these companies on customer value (“creating a single happy customer”). I had long suspected this to be the case but as I am not a customer of many of these start-ups, my evidence was anecdotal at best.
My concern with these pitches and competitions is their public nature which at times defeats the very reason for entering the competition in the long run – seeking venture capital or grant funding. You see, many of these ideas involve some form of business process, invention or innovation which the start-up wants to (or should want to) keep close to its chest until the right time. In the alternative, the start-up would have vested (meaning registered or otherwise ensured there is evidence they own) the intellectual property in their idea.
In Jamaica, patents (the form of IP you should choose if you have an invention) should only be registered if they are novel here. In the U.S., a patent can only be granted if there is no public disclosure. A registered design (the type of IP protection used for more utilitarian products) can be revoked if someone else uses it. Unsurprisingly, our inventors often look to register their patents or designs in the U.S given the limitations on reaching scale within the small Jamaican market. However, the prior disclosure of an idea to win a competition or to get a grant could lead to an inability to get your intellectual property registered – which makes the desired investment or grant almost meaningless if not impossible.
I understand why any start-up in a small developing country would seek exposure, even on sites such as www.kickstarter.com. However, even on that well-used site, there has been theft of intellectual property backed by the just-in-time manufacturing system used in Asia. I’m not trying to dissuade persons from entering competitions or seeking grants, I’m trying to encourage due diligence and a prior weighting of risks. If your pitch depends on your being first in time, be conscious that you may be letting the proverbial “cat out of the bag” and make vesting of your intellectual property impossible.