“What’s your IP strategy?”

Guide for seed stage founders

If you are in the life sciences or hardware spaces, you will unavoidably get this question from institutional investors, “what’s your IP (intellectual property) strategy?”

The answer “XYZ Law Firm is handling our IP” is not a strategy: it’s an expense item on your income statement. Regardless of the brand name of the law firm, they are still advisors, and you are the CEO of your company. IP is a critical asset for a life sciences or hardware company. You can’t outsource the creation of the critical asset of your business. You can only outsource the paperwork filing part.

The “IP strategy” question is asking for a novel compound (chemical or biological) that you can patent, a unique process that can be a defensible trade secret. Be ready to explain why the compound is novel or the process unique, which unfortunately requires the founder to know a lot about the competitive landscape.

In addition to other startups, one area that seed stage founders often neglect to look for competition is internal R&D teams within large corporations. While large corporations do tend to move slower than nimble early stage startups, large corporates have deep pockets and libraries of prior research to draw upon.

Think of IP as a railroad map: ideally what you want is a rail piece that vitally connects all the existing rail lines, OR a new line that is shorter/faster/cheaper.

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