TMBA 253: A Bootstrapper’s Thoughts on Intellectual Property

TMBA253: A Bootstrapper’s Thoughts on Intellectual Property post image

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We’re talking about protecting our intellectual property and business through copyright, trademarks and patents. This stuff can be expensive for entrepreneurs, but it is incredibly important. There are so many reasons a bootstrapping attitude might differ from a more corporate or startup philosophy regarding these issues. We’ll also chat about our upcoming event in Austin, T.X. and why we have decided to sell our cat furniture business.

Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • What it costs to patent something, and the cost of defending that patent.
  • Why patents aren’t a form of protection, but rather a form of power.
  • What happens when someone comes after you over a patent dispute.
  • The benefits of trademarking and what that process looks like.
  • Why you should be assuming that people will steal your stuff.

People on this episode:

Mentioned in the episode:

My Favorite Photo of the Year So Far, My Short Friend!

My Favorite Photo of the Year So Far, My Short Friend!

Listening options:


Thanks for listening to our show! We’ll be back next Thursday morning 8AM EST.


Dan & Ian

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Published on 07.17.14
  • Tim Thompson

    The TM trademark are for state issued trademarks or that is what it is in Tennessee, I’ve had one for 15 years. When we first did it it was good for 10 years now the state has changed it to 5 years so I have to keep it up to date till I have the funds for a Registered mark. Love your show and hope this helped.

  • I applied for a trademark this morning just before listening to the podcast :) We were also going to take the ‘innovate faster than the competition’ approach to patents until discussing with patent attorneys earlier this week. There may be little that can be done about ripoffs of your IP, but patents can be used as a tool to negotiate with reputable companies in your space, and IP can be licensed for use in other non-competing applications.

  • Hey Dan,

    How does being a micro multi national impact registering trademarks?

    Eg can a Hong Kong company register a trademark in the US?



  • IP and business-type attorney here, mostly focusing on game and mobile development, but the concepts apply to businesses discussed on the show. Dan and Ian were only about 80 percent incorrect with the things they were saying! Not bad :)

    Any info here is just info, not legal advice. Feel free to contact me (particularly California residents) to set up a free consult if you’re interested in learning what you can do, IP-wise. I’m not a patent attorney, but oftentimes a patent is too expensive for a bootstrapped business ($10-15,000, at least).

    @Davidhme – Yes, a foreign entity can register a trademark in the US in order to take advantage of those protections.

    Simon Pilkington You’re absolutely right. Another big advantage of having a trademark is, as mentioned on the show, you (or I) can write a letter to the infringer showing the trademark registration and they will often stop right there. If not, you can use the strength of that registration to get them taken off Facebook and other social media sites, or at least disabled from viewing in the country where you are registered. This can be extremely helpful when you’re relying on search results to get business.

    Tim Thompson That’s incorrect, and was slightly incorrect on the show, as well. As far as federal registrations go, the ™ symbol is used for a mark that is used in commerce but has not been registered yet. The ® symbol is used for one that has been registered. A slight difference from what was on the show, but you don’t have to have applied for a registration before using the ™ symbol. Trademark rights exist, at least in the US, as soon as you begin using the mark in commerce. I cover this and other common TM questions on my blog, here –

    I have a bunch of blog posts on my site dealing with all kinds of IP issues – here’s a link to the category. –

    While I write mostly about game development and mobile app topics, most of it applies to all businesses.

  • Great podcast, Dan and Ian – especially like the idea of out innovating the competition as a form of protection. Media law and all its stipulations is a fascinating topic. On one hand, I understand the need to Trademark and obtain Copyright protection. You’ve put a lot of energy into producing content, and it sucks if someone comes by and just swipes it. That can really add up, though, for a limited budget. On the other hand, I’m really intrigued by the new idea of releasing everything into the public domain to spark industry-wide innovation, like we’ve recently seen with Tesla Motors ( There is a really interesting journal article about this idea you can view at Once we stop worrying if someone is profiting off our ideas and concentrate on providing an even-better product (similar to your innovation idea), who knows what we’re capable of producing. Would love to hear your views on this new way of thinking about intellectual property.

    As for TM The Tropical MBA, since it’s really the only way to take legal action against someone who does steal the name, I think it would be a wise decision for now. Who knows, though, Tropical MBA may evolve into something even bigger than the name. Turner from the Around the World in 80 Jobs blog ( went through the legal hell of having his platform stolen and TM his site.

  • stefanek

    [20m24s] “One more thing, we do like to invite outsiders…”

    Needless to say – one of my best memories from San Diego :) Shameless plug for couple more images:

    Patents, trademarks, licensing, royalties, IP… I like your approach: Run faster (jump higher)

  • haha very glad this was posted here for some further posterity!

    so glad you had a good time in SD! :D

  • Hey Zachary, I was really hoping somebody like you would come along and help us to mop our this mess for our listeners! Very much appreciate your offer to listeners and the helpful information and links.

  • didn’t think of the licensing implications but that’s pretty smart. this jibes with my general sense that patents are pawns on the board– pieces to be moved in the game– rather than rules of the game.

  • Hey Tim thanks for listening and for the tip!

  • Hey Monica so great to hear from you… appreciate the links. I am very interested in the general strategy of uncopyright, I mean it’s not difficult nowadays to determine the genealogy of an idea, in other words, even if other people are ripping you off and profiting from your ideas, (at least I am inclined to believe) that you’ll probably end up getting more credit and profit in the long run than if you tried to protect yourself.

    I was just thinking about this today at lunch when an entrepreneur was talking about how he restricted his distribution in order to protect it and I couldn’t help but thinking it was a bad strategy, even if he was “protect” in a conventional sense.

    I am aware of that 80days story– crazy! You are right to say it probably makes some sense to get off my ass on the TM thing, but I agree and hope that it does become something more!

  • stefanek

    Posterity. Legacy. Digital footprint. Relevant infographic:

    (counting the people you impact)


  • interesting. would probably factor in depth given many of the things start-ups do others will eventually do (tech imperative)

  • stefanek

    Yeah buddy!

    If I write piece of code that eventually lands into Chrome / jQuery / WordPress / Rails then my ‘influence count’ is instantly in billions.

    The other day I hosted (AirBnb style) a guy who contributed to an open-source project and he was showing off by navigating to: Settings – General – About – Legal – Legal Notices (yep, iOS is heavily based on open-source)

    eBay – 724k people – primary or secondary source of income (press release from 9 years ago)

    TMBA – you have real, meaningful influence on peoples lives. What else can I add? Keep on rocking, build great products and I should probably be back to work… :)

  • If you ever want to do a follow-up podcast/interview to discuss some of these issues, just let me know. I’m also a digital nomad, so a lot of the things you guys talk about applies to my life as well. Though my city of choice is Bangkok (I did enjoy Saigon very much, though)

  • Zachary, thanks! Good to know.

  • Great topic guys! My take:

    – Best strategy is to keep coming up with something new, rather than fighting (in court) to hold onto something old. The amount of time/effort to develop a product does correlate to the amount of legal fees to protect it.
    – Patent types! I may have missed if you mentioned it, but it’s important to note that there are Design Patents and Utility Patents.
    – Provisional Patents allow you to use “Patent Pending” on your products. These can be extended up to 18 months. I think these are only for Utility patents.

    Any patent gives the holder a kind of title for any idea. This title is transferrable, legally, while just an idea isn’t.

    A cheaply-acquired “Patent Pending” on your product may be enough to dissuade casual knock offs.

    Design Patents, while not terribly enforceable (easy to make small design change), are much cheaper to get.

    I’m currently looking into legalzoom and similar sites to set up some new Provisional Patents. Any other services that anyone recommends?

  • cheers Jed appreciate your insights here… especially from somebody with a very similar business… one thing in retrospect is how much we all worry about these things relative to how often they seem to actually be relevant… of course that’s hugely anecdotal… i’m starting to think that unscrupulous people knocking you off often has more benefit for the original designer of the product than harm. maybe we are just borrowing all these ideas from a previous paradigm of product manufacturing and it’s not all that relevant? perhaps not! still seems like a case by case thing, and sort of like insurance… “in case shit.” :)

  • Scotty

    Loved the episode – though I wish I would have heard it a couple years ago :). I can relate to the frustration of the caller. I was in a similar situation a while back and I can sense some very bright red flags popping up with the caller’s business partner. I ignored those red flags and it did not turn out well for me. You guys are playing tug-o-war trying to decide what is important for the success of your business and thus getting nowhere. As someone who has released a few apps, I can tell you right now the mindset of “someone’s going to still our big idea and we have to protect ourselves” is an artificiality. Ideas are a dime-a-dozen and don’t make you money…however executing the ideas do make you money. You only have so much time and energy when you are bootstrapping an app-based business so product development, user feedback and selling the darn thing should be your focus. Tell your buddy to take off his “we can’t succeed unless we have a software patent” tinfoil hat and to start hustling.

  • thanks for the love and the advice Scotty!

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