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IP Challenges for Hungarian Startups

IP Challenges for Hungarian Startups

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Kinstellar Budapest moderated a panel discussion as part of the Startup Safary Budapest 2017 startup exhibition, which included sharing insight on the start-up ecosystem and expectations for 2017 in Hungary. 

While Startup founders are increasingly aware of the financing opportunities provided by venture capital (VC) funds, there was a consensus that not enough attention is paid to the protection of intellectual property (IP) and avoiding third party IP infringement. Failure to properly protect IP could result in a negative value impact and could eventually result in complete loss of value.

In our general experience, the VC industry does recognize the importance of protecting IP, but this is often limited to traditional protections such as trademarks and patents, and there is usually no comprehensive IP strategy. Here are a few examples of the aspects we usually consider when conducting an IP audit or participating in the planning: 

Identifying the IP

IP can take many forms, which may vary based on the jurisdiction. In Hungary, IP can be a work under copyright protection, a registered industrial property right, or a domain name, and/or can exist in unregistered form, such as know-how or a trade name. Recognizing the form of IP is essential, as different forms require different security measures. For instance, while copyright protection exists from the moment the work is created, industrial property rights require registration. Some IP requires a special approach; this is the case with inventions, which cannot be disclosed or published before filing. To keep track of the company’s IP assets, it is worth creating an internal IP register.

IP is Not Always Assigned Automatically

Startups need to keep in mind that IP is not created by the company itself but by its contractors, suppliers, partners, and employees. The company should have proper agreements in place with its external partners to obtain the IP rights to the work created for its benefit. This may be very difficult to ensure when stock materials are used, for example, or when using content published on social media sites. The rights to IP created by employees are automatically assigned to the company by virtue of law; however, there remain several issues that need to be regulated. It is therefore highly recommended that IP-based companies adopt internal IP codes (e.g., a corporate patent policy) or at least address critical issues in employment contracts. Needless to say, if the company is using external (or in some cases internal) IP without a proper license, this might give rise to third party claims.

Focus on Key IP First

IP protection can consume a significant part of a startup’s budget. The company should not rush to protect every piece of identifiable IP and especially should not start with defensive protection (e.g., by protecting combinations of domain names the company actually does not intend to use). The IP that comprises the core value of the company must be identified and protected first. The company should draw up an IP protection plan matching its business plan, and as the company’s activities pick up speed, so too should the protection afforded to its IP.

Searching for Prior Rights Before Building

It may take only a few clicks on the Internet to find significant prior rights. If the company does not look for them, then competitors and investors almost certainly will. It is highly advisable for prior rights (prior art) searches (especially when searching the patent and trademark databases) to use an IP specialist who can assess the results in light of local court practice. Failing to conduct a prior art search could result in the infringement of third party rights. This can have severe consequences in the later startup stages when a significant amount of money is already invested in the affected IP. It is essential that the contractors of the startup also meet this criterion and provide the startup with “clean” IP. Note that the startup may be acting in good faith but could still be unknowingly infringing third party rights.

Local Specialties Cannot be Ignored

The principles governing IP regulation might be similar in certain jurisdictions, but there can be significant differences in the details. A very good example of such difference is the provision in the Civil Code of Hungary, which recognizes information held in a form enabling identification only as know-how. Local companies should therefore create a know-how register and update it regularly.

By Zsombor Orban, Head of IP and TMT, Andreko Kinstellar Ugyvedi Iroda

This Article was originally published in Issue 4.5 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.

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Kinstellar is a leading independent law firm in Emerging Europe, Turkey and Central Asia, with offices in Bulgaria (Sofia), Croatia (Zagreb), the Czech Republic (Prague), Hungary (Budapest), Kazakhstan (Almaty and Astana), Romania (Bucharest), Serbia (Belgrade), Slovakia (Bratislava), Turkey (Istanbul), Ukraine (Kyiv), and Uzbekistan (Tashkent).

Operating as a single fully integrated firm, Kinstellar delivers consistently high quality services across all jurisdictions in an integrated and seamless style. We are particularly well suited to servicing complex transactions and advisory requirements spanning several jurisdictions.

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