UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Startups have many things to consider as they develop their ideas, and one of the most important is how to protect those ideas. While trademarks, copyright and patents can be confusing territory, Penn State’s libraries have an abundance of resources to help startups navigate.
“Start early and take advantage of all the free and affordable solutions that are now available here in central Pennsylvania,” said John Meier, Patent and Trademark Resource Center Librarian at Penn State University Libraries. “Ten years ago, we didn't have the LaunchBox or the Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Law Clinics that we have today.”
The libraries are vital to supporting Penn State's entrepreneurial ecosystem, with several offices and resources dedicated to the support of startups and entrepreneurs. This includes being a U.S. Patent and Trademark Resource Center that supports entrepreneurs by doing extensive patent and copyright research. Also, there are dedicated resources in The Scholarly Communications & Copyright Office, general entrepreneurship resources for the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Minor, and the Entrepreneurship Resources for Alumni and Visitors.
Meier’s unique background and skill set make him especially effective in his position. While working as a computer engineer, he decided to go to graduate school to study library science. With his science and engineering background, and his professional experience, he helps people understand the processes, and, more importantly, he encourages them to think about the bigger picture.
“I first try to get to the entrepreneur’s real needs and challenge them to think about all their potential intellectual property, including trademarks and copyright,” he said. “Protecting your ideas and creations from competitors is something you need to do early, especially when there may be a long time for a product or service to get to actual sales.”
In addition to his duties at the library, Meier has been highly involved in supporting Happy Valley LaunchBox teams with mentoring and other programs in the Invent Penn State initiative. He said this connection allows him to easily connect directly to entrepreneurs and startups.
“There is an overwhelming amount of information available to today's small businesses. As a librarian, I am a knowledge professional, which means I can direct them to the best information sources for prior examples of intellectual property that may limit or enhance their ideas,” said Meier.
Meier also points out that you can’t put your ideas back in the box once they become public. If the library can’t help you, they will figure out who can. Meier encourages startups to reach out to the library for help. It may be the first step in getting your business off the ground.
University librarians are also available to be guest speakers to present to a class or group on a specific topic, and individual appointments can also be scheduled.