Smart Business – Successful New Product Launches
It is smart business to minimize your legal expenses and avoid being named a defendant in lawsuits or having to recall your products.
Up Front Legal Advice
You cannot run a successful business without legal compliance and legal protections for your innovations. The key is to get legal advice UP FRONT before you bring your new products to market. Do not wait until it is too late and you have lost your customers and/or your intellectual property.
Determine Who Regulates your Products
You need to determine what laws and regulations govern your products before you go to market. Many business owners mistakenly think that their products are only regulated by one federal agency; for example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission ("CPSC") or the Food and Drug Administration ("FDA"). Typically, products are subject to many regulations.
For example, you may know the CPSC has published extensive regulations for children’s toys and you have had your products designed, manufactured and tested to meet them. But if you are claiming in your product packaging that your toys are "green" because you use recycled materials, you will need to follow the environmental marketing guidelines published by the Federal Trade Commission ("FTC"). Or have you considered that some materials in your toys may be more highly regulated in states with consumer protection laws stricter than the federal government?
It does not help you to be compliant partially with your product. You need holistic compliance or you may be facing retailers which reject your products, a recall and/or consumer claims and lawsuits.
Determine How to Protect your Products with Patents or Trade Secrets
You have to make sure that your new product does not infringe upon the patents of other companies. If you are designing new products, you need to be working with a patent lawyer at the beginning of the design so you do not lose any patentable rights. In some cases, you may be better off with trade secret protection. Don’t start talking about your new idea without consulting with a qualified attorney and getting appropriate confidentiality agreements in place with potential suppliers and customers. You also need invention assignment agreements with your employees or independent contractors so that the new invention is legally owned by you and not by them.
Branding and Trademarks
Before you brand your product, you need to verify if the brand is already a trademark of another company in the same class of goods or would cause customer confusion as to the true source of the product. A qualified attorney should be consulted at the outset.
Channels to Market
There are many channels to market depending on the nature of the product. You may be selling the product on-line from your own website or working with a manufacturer’s representative who can place it on retail shelves. Or your product might be an industrial or scientific product where you will sell only to other companies and not to end consumers. Here, you have to be very careful with your contracts. Beware of exclusive contracts and what are known as "MFN" or price protection clauses.
Export markets can provide very profitable opportunities for U.S. based companies. The U.S Department of Commerce, international logistics companies and the U.S. embassies of foreign countries offer many informational resources to get you started. There will be more "red tape" when you export but you may find new untapped markets with less competition for your products.
You can successfully launch new products when you take care of the legal issues at the outset. Never let inattention to legal issues be the reason your products failed in the marketplace.