When developing a new website, entrepreneurs and technologists usually focus on the following kinds of questions. Is the interface attractive and easy to use? Are we offering something different from our competitors? How can we generate revenue? These questions are indeed important. However, the success and profitability of an online business can also depend on effectively dealing with a number of legal issues. Entrepreneurs and technologists should consider asking themselves the following questions at the beginning of their projects.
Are we collecting and managing the personal information of our users in accordance with the law?
Have we mitigated our risks with respect to our users and third parties?
Do we have the right to use and commercialize the intellectual property on which our business depends?
Have we taken the necessary steps to protect our patentable inventions?
In general, it is not possible to get a patent on an invention that has already been publicly disclosed. In some countries, such as Canada and the United States, there is a grace period of one year if the invention has been publicly disclosed by the inventor. That is, if the inventor publicly discloses the invention, he/she still has one year from the date of disclosure to file a patent application. Most countries, however, do not have this grace period. In these countries that have an absolute novelty requirement, once the inventor has publicly disclosed the invention it is no longer possible to get a patent on it.
To protect your ability to patent your inventions avoid discussing them, presenting them, or otherwise disclosing them to people outside your company before you file a patent application. Sometimes it is necessary to discuss the invention with people outside the company before you can file a patent. For example, you may need to talk to investors to raise money to further develop the invention. In such cases, you can prevent the discussion from counting as a public disclosure by signing a simple non-disclosure agreement.
It is surprisingly easy when first starting to develop a new website to make small mistakes (e.g., incorporating open source software into your source code or publicly disclosing a patentable invention) that can lead to big problems down the road and undermine your ability to commercialize your product or service. It is always worth the relatively small cost of dealing with these issues early on to ensure that your company is built on a solid legal foundation.