Fidget Cube, a small desk toy with buttons and clickers to fidget with, raised $6.5 million dollars on Kickstarter.
Within one month of funding, there were already knockoffs flooding the market, month and months before the Fidget Cube was able to ship to backers.
Even after three months of working with a digital brand protection agency, it was too late. The pirates won.
Search Amazon right now, and the first page of results won’t include a single product by Antsy Labs, the inventors of the Fidget Cube.
As a creator, I’d make me want to vomit seeing my creation stolen like that, but unfortunately that’s the world we live in as crowdfunders.
So What Can We Do?
Intellectual Property is, to put it delicately, a motherfucker.
Every country has different rules, terms, timelines and organization, all of which you’re supposed to just know, or risk getting copied.
Where should we start then?
In this excellent and technical article by Scott Livingston of SIPS IP Advisors for China, Scott breaks down the first steps to take to protect your idea.
First, start with China.
Whereas in the US it’s fairly straightforward to prove you were the first to use a product commercially, in China you need to prove prior use and be the first to file your trademark in mainland China to be able to lock down your IP. With so much high-tech manufacturing and e-commerce already happening in China, you’re at a huge disadvantage trying to beat a pirate to market. It’s kiiiiiinda hard if you’re launching your product on Kickstarter to make money to fund the project in the first place.
Plus, without a trademark, it’s easy to make a yourproductname.cn website that mirrors your own website, and is impossible to take down.
Isn’t that a dilly of a pickle? (Note this is not an endorsement of pickles, which are gross, poisoned cucumbers. Please do not, under any circumstances, eat a pickle. Yuck.)
Thankfully, Scott continues on to expand on how to prevent this happening to your campaign with some best practices, most notably:
“Unlike in the US and other countries, China’s patent laws do not provide any grace periods to file patent applications after a product’s public disclosure. Brand owners should therefore consider filing patent applications in at least one jurisdiction before disclosing their product online. So long as the country in which the initial applications have been filed is a signatory to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (most industrialized nations are), then a “Convention Priority Application” for the patent can be filed in China within six months of that initial filing.”
This is the big takeaway: Chinese IP laws are much more strict, and honestly more important to file right away, than protections in the US where common-law will be a bit more forgiving for inventors. If you’ve only got money to file in one location, start with China and expand to the US and EU only after you’ve got enough funds in your campaign that it’ll be necessary to start protecting your idea.
When is the right time to file for protection?
When it looks like you’ve got a product with traction. If you’re able to convince influencers, reviewers, or new customers to pre-buy your product, then you’ve got enough proof that strangers want to throw money at you. Note I did NOT say friends & family, they’re too nice to tell you to F off because they support and love you. JERKS WHO DOES THAT.
Wait, so that’s it?
Like anything involving law, hell naw there’s like forty billion more caveats to think about. It's like wizard magic.
While you can probably figure out how to handle a filing trademark in China, I’d highly recommend finding a competent IP lawyer if your product is looking like it’ll hit Super Crowdfunding range ($100k+). Yes, it can get expensive, but not as expensive as losing the trademark to your own project.
That being said, if you handle your Chinese trademark first, you'll be waaaay safer than the many other campaigns who've have their idea swiped.