Most technical startups & technology companies consider filing for Patents at some stage. Although the strongest IP-right, it is usually a long wait until grant - considerable time & money is needed to get the Application written & filed, followed by regular investment to keep the process moving as the Application is examined by the national Patent Office.
As a rough guide, the drafting, filing & examination of a Patent in one country costs at least €15000, and protection in additional countries cost about €5000 - 10000 each.
But there are cheaper and quicker alternatives to protect your invention - be aware of the advantages and risks of each option before pursuing it.
Consult Fireball Patents if in doubt, or more information is needed
Not the same as doing nothing - the information could be stolen or a competitor could develop it independently and get a Patent of their own.
In both cases, you need to be able to prove what you had on a particular date. The Waymo vs Uber case showed how appropriate precautions and access logs could stop an ex-employee (and the new employer) from benefiting from your "Trade Secrets".
A convenient way to document key innovations & milestones is to file i-DEPOT's. The Benelux IP Office provides a confidential register, where up to 100MB of documents, images, drawings, videos & audio can be deposited online for €15. The certificate is recognised by judges in all 27 EU countries. The i-DEPOT certificate number can also be referenced in agreements, like a License or NDA.
Other precautions should also be taken such as including secrecy clauses in employment contracts, identifying confidential information as such and limiting access to it.
When designing, choices are often to make the product more appealing. If the result is not completely determined by the technical function, an Industrial Design will give protection. The case law is still developing with regard to the scope of protection available, and the extent of damages which can be awarded.
For example, the number, shape, colour & layout of the rotors and feet of a drone often combine aesthetics and technology, giving different products from one company a similar "look & feel".
Available in most countries world-wide based - in most cases, only drawings need to be filed and grant occurs within a few months after filing. The Community Design gives protection in all EU states with a single filing, and is typically registered within a few days.
Available in many countries (like France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan, South Korea). They are not available in US or UK.
Term is typically less than a Patent (10 years instead of 20 years), so they are ideal for protecting products with a short lifecycle. Some countries do not allow processes or methods to be protected with a Utility Model.
In most cases, there is no examination, so the grant occurs within a couple of months. No communications from the Patent Office must be answered, and writing a Utility Model application is simpler & quicker than for a Patent. The patentability requirements are similar, or even the same as Patents, and many countries allow both rights to be registered for the same invention.
They are equally as effective for enforcement as Patents, although an examination report may be required before assertion in court.
If you are prepared to decide early, one or two national filings is cheaper, and will usually be granted quicker. For example, filings in UK, Germany & France cover the three largest EU economies and in many cases the largest sales markets in the EU. Protection in countries where future competitors may manufacture is not always necessary with a patent (see options above).
The cost saving depends on the countries chosen, the type of Patent system they have (examination or not), and any translations that need to filed.
National offices, like The Netherlands (OCNL - RVO), subsidise the filing and search cost. Most of the prior art searches are actually performed by the EPO.
The cost saving of filing a Dutch Patent Application to get an official search report is about 10% (=€900). The Dutch Patent will be granted automatically, giving protection in The Netherlands.
The Dutch Application can be filed almost completely in English, making it easier for the inventor to contribute and to review the draft. Being in English also this saves future translation costs if protection in other countries is pursued..
If a subsequent EPO or PCT Application is pursued, the search fee (EUR 1000 - 1800) paid is often refunded because a high-quality search was already done for the Dutch Application.