Many people think of intellectual property as gold – inherently valuable, even if the discoverer doesn’t lift a finger. In reality, IP is closer to petroleum. It must be shaped, refined and protected in order to turn it into something of real worth.

Entrepreneurs hoping to leverage innovative IP as they build a business would be ill-advised to rest on their laurels. Instead, they should take concrete steps now to ensure their IP’s future is stable and secure.

4 key IP questions to consider

Protecting IP is an evolving process, one that requires time and patience. But broadly speaking, it can be broken down into steps, as explained by Entrepreneur, and characterized by four questions. You should ask yourself:

  1. Have I done a thorough inventory of my IP (which includes determining ownership)?
  2. Have I taken external (patents, trademarks, etc.) and internal (NDAs, strong contracts) steps to fully secure that IP?
  3. Is there any possibility of infringement – both outside parties that might infringe on your product, or existing IP that your product might infringe upon?
  4. Does my IP strategy line up with my business goals in a way that promotes innovation and monetization?

Why this legwork is important

This may sound like a lot of effort, and oftentimes it is. However, it is worth the resources that may be required.

Having properly protected IP is a distinct competitive advantage. It also offers the potential for licensing, if that’s a path you want to consider down the road. In addition, investors often look at IP when making decisions. A strong, protected piece of intellectual property can make or break funding.

Long-term, not taking steps to safeguard IP now can lead to a rug-pull moment, like what happened in this Fast Company story. Years of hard work may end up lost because of one misstep early in the process.

Ideas are good and can form the pillars of a business. But it won’t grow very tall if you fail to build the proper foundation around them.