Bankruptcy and Technology Companies: Tech Startups, IP Protection

This comprehensive guide explores the complexities of bankruptcy for technology startups, focusing on the crucial role of intellectual property protection and offering strategic measures to navigate and emerge stronger from financial distress.


Bankruptcy can be a complex and daunting process for any company, but it poses unique challenges for technology startups. These companies often rely heavily on intellectual property (IP) as their primary asset. Protecting and managing IP during bankruptcy is crucial for the survival and future success of tech startups. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of bankruptcy and IP protection for technology companies, with a focus on tech startups.

Understanding Bankruptcy

Types of Bankruptcy

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Chapter 7 bankruptcy, also known as liquidation bankruptcy, involves the sale of a debtor's non-exempt assets by a trustee. The proceeds are then used to pay off creditors. This type of bankruptcy is often considered when a company cannot continue its operations and seeks to liquidate its assets.

Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Chapter 11 bankruptcy, also known as reorganization bankruptcy, allows a company to continue its operations while restructuring its debts. This type of bankruptcy is often used by businesses that believe they can become profitable again if given the opportunity to reorganize.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is primarily for individuals and sole proprietors. It allows the debtor to keep their property and pay debts over time, usually three to five years.

The Bankruptcy Process

Filing for Bankruptcy

The bankruptcy process begins with the filing of a petition in bankruptcy court. This petition can be filed voluntarily by the debtor or involuntarily by creditors.

Automatic Stay

Upon filing for bankruptcy, an automatic stay is issued, which halts all collection activities against the debtor. This provides temporary relief and allows the debtor to reorganize their finances.

Creditors' Meeting

A meeting of creditors, also known as a 341 meeting, is held to allow creditors to question the debtor about their financial affairs and the proposed repayment plan.

Intellectual Property in Bankruptcy

Types of Intellectual Property


Patents protect inventions and grant the patent holder exclusive rights to use, sell, and license the invention for a certain period.


Trademarks protect brand names, logos, and other identifiers that distinguish goods and services in the marketplace.


Copyrights protect original works of authorship, such as literature, music, and software.

Trade Secrets

Trade secrets protect confidential business information that provides a competitive edge.

Valuation of Intellectual Property

Valuing IP assets is crucial during bankruptcy as it determines how much creditors can recover. The valuation process can be complex and often requires expert appraisal.

Treatment of Intellectual Property in Bankruptcy

Executory Contracts

IP licenses are often considered executory contracts in bankruptcy. The debtor can choose to assume or reject these contracts, impacting the rights of licensees and licensors.

Sale of Intellectual Property

IP assets can be sold during bankruptcy to generate funds for creditors. The sale process must comply with bankruptcy court procedures and often requires court approval.

Protection of Trade Secrets

Protecting trade secrets during bankruptcy is challenging as disclosure can occur during court proceedings. Special measures, such as protective orders, can be used to safeguard confidential information.

Challenges for Tech Startups

Dependency on Intellectual Property

Tech startups often rely heavily on their IP assets. Losing control over these assets during bankruptcy can jeopardize the company's future.

Funding and Investment

Bankruptcy can deter potential investors and make it difficult for tech startups to secure funding. Investors may be wary of the risks associated with a company in financial distress.

Talent Retention

Tech startups rely on skilled employees. Bankruptcy can lead to uncertainty and employee attrition, further complicating the company's recovery efforts.

Strategies for Protecting IP During Bankruptcy

Pre-Bankruptcy Planning

IP Audits

Conducting an IP audit before filing for bankruptcy can help identify and value IP assets. This information is crucial for making informed decisions during the bankruptcy process.

Securing IP Rights

Ensuring that all IP rights are properly secured and documented can prevent disputes and protect the company's assets during bankruptcy.

During Bankruptcy

Assumption of IP Licenses

Assuming IP licenses can help maintain business operations and preserve valuable relationships with licensors and licensees.

Protective Orders

Requesting protective orders can safeguard trade secrets and other confidential information during court proceedings.


Reorganization Plans

Developing a robust reorganization plan that prioritizes IP protection can help tech startups emerge from bankruptcy stronger and more resilient.

Case Studies

Example 1: Kodak

Kodak, once a giant in the photography industry, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012. The company successfully reorganized by focusing on its IP assets, including patents related to digital imaging technology.

Example 2: Nortel Networks

Nortel Networks, a telecommunications company, filed for bankruptcy in 2009. The company sold its extensive patent portfolio for $4.5 billion, demonstrating the significant value of IP assets in bankruptcy.


Bankruptcy presents unique challenges for technology companies, particularly tech startups that rely heavily on intellectual property. Understanding the bankruptcy process and the treatment of IP assets is crucial for protecting and maximizing the value of these assets. By implementing strategic measures before, during, and after bankruptcy, tech startups can navigate the complexities of bankruptcy and emerge stronger.


  1. U.S. Courts - Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
  2. U.S. Courts - Chapter 11 Bankruptcy
  3. U.S. Courts - Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
  4. U.S. Courts - Filing for Bankruptcy
  5. U.S. Courts - Automatic Stay
  6. U.S. Courts - Creditors' Meeting
  7. USPTO - Patents
  8. USPTO - Trademarks
  9. U.S. Copyright Office
  10. USPTO - Trade Secrets
  11. USPTO - Valuation of Intellectual Property
  12. U.S. Bankruptcy Code - Executory Contracts
  13. U.S. Bankruptcy Code - Sale of Assets
  14. USPTO - Trade Secret Protection
  15. USPTO - IP Audits
  16. U.S. Courts - Reorganization Plans
About the author
Von Wooding, Esq.

Von Wooding, Esq.

Lawyer and Founder

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