Does your business understand and manage its Intellectual Property effectively? If not, you are not alone. Many small businesses worry that it is too complex for them to handle themselves but too expensive to employ external experts.
However, by following some simple steps, you can avoid the most common IP pitfalls and protect your business.
- Understand and identify what IP your business holds.
Your technical innovations, distinctive brands and designs, original authored materials, technical know-how and trade secrets are all your Intellectual Property. Some arise automatically but some must be applied for.
- IP is not only for big companies.
IP rights help ensure that the people who create ideas are rewarded for their efforts. They help individuals and start-ups to compete with larger companies. They can be extremely valuable and are a crucial component in building your business.
- IP rights are key business assets.
They can generate income through commercialisation and licensing and add value to your SME. Investors need to know your IP is protected.
- Consider licensing your IP.
If your IP would be useful to other businesses, you may be able to license its use to them. It is a low risk way of exploiting your IP and can provide small businesses with new opportunities for conducting business domestically or abroad.
- Make sure you know who owns the IP.
Under UK law an employer owns the IP created by its employees working “in the course of their employment”. However, contractors and consultants usually own everything they create – even if you have commissioned it – unless they assign ownership to your company with a simple contract.
- Confidentiality is vital to start with.
If you don’t keep your IP confidential you risk someone else discovering and benefiting from your innovation. Also, some forms of IP cannot be obtained if the idea has been made public before you apply to protect it. Third parties may need to sign non-disclosure agreements at early stages.
- Think strategically.
Align your business plan with your IP development. Consider an invention capture process so that you identify and protect new IP at the appropriate times.
- Think about international protection.
Most IP rights are territorial and give no protection outside that territory. You need to balance the costs of broader international protection against the likely risks and benefits of operating in the countries where you make, buy, or sell your products.
- Stay vigilant.
Regular searches of published IP rights will prevent you unknowingly infringing someone else’s IP. Infringement can result in substantial fines or injunctions for your company. Searches can also identify when somebody else is infringing your rights.
- Use your IP rights correctly.
Your IP rights can be challenged and invalidated if you don’t look after them. g. Trade marks must be used regularly and correctly. Patented products should be marked appropriately.
“A proactive, well designed IP strategy can help drive the growth of your company and does not have to be expensive. Much of the work involved can be managed internally but sound professional guidance will give you vital peace of mind. It is much cheaper to get professional advice and quality IP protection ahead of time rather than having to try and sort out the mess after things have gone wrong.”