Intellectual Property

Every business, regardless of size or commercial sector, has Intellectual Property (IP). It could be in the way you work, the way you present yourself to customers, the products you design, the services you offer or the way you offer them.

Businesses are often surprised at how many aspects of their day to day business attract IP, and do not realise that if IP is protected in the right way, it can become a valuable commercial asset.  In fact, on average, around 70% of a typical company’s worth lies in intangible assets like IP, and this percentage is steadily increasing.

What are the key elements of IP?

IP broadly fits into one of four categories:-

Trade Marks – identify the origin of your products or services such as business name, product names, logos.

Copyright – protects the physical manifestation of your creative work, such as literary and artistic works, your website content, marketing materials and software code.

Designs –protect the look and feel of your products.

Patents – protect your inventions.

How do I identify my IP?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why would customers choose my business or product?
  • What are my unique selling points?
  • How do we differentiate ourselves from our competitors?
  • What changes have we made to improve our business?

Your answers to these questions will help identify what is important to you, and where your IP is likely to exist.

You can also consider having an IP professional conduct an IP audit on your business

Three important considerations:

  • a product or service may attract more than one type of IP. For example, you may use a name or logo for a new product (trade mark), it may have a different and new shape compared to other available products (design), it may incorporate a completely new working part (patent), and it may have design drawings or a user manual (copyright).
  • Check who created the IP. If an employee created the work in the course of their employment with you, then you will own the IP.  In contrast, where a design or copyright work has been commissioned, the person who you commissioned will own the IP until those rights are assigned to you.  Some big companies have been caught out by this in the past, and held to ransom over IP that they believed was their own
  • disclosure of certain IP to the public before you have obtained protection may defeat your own application. If you have to involve third parties before you have applied for protection, be sure to disclose information under cover of a non-disclosure agreement.

Why and how should I protect my IP?

Seeking protection for your IP establishes your rights, puts others on notice of those rights, and makes it easier for you to take legal action against anyone who misuses your rights.

Well protected IP provides your business with security and a competitive advantage, it engenders customer loyalty, and can become a means of income generation and raising capital.

Certain aspects of intellectual property are automatically protected without the need to register for protection.

Automatic Protection:

Copyright

Unregistered Design Right

Protection you have to apply for:

Trade Marks

Registered Designs

Patents

Where an application process is involved, your application will be subject to the payment of fees.  It will undergo a rigorous examination procedure, and will be open to opposition by others.

When should I protect my IP?

The safe answer is as soon as possible, however, as there are costs involved with protection you need to adopt a sound commercial strategy for Intellectual Property protection. Deciding what and when to protect should be based on maximising the benefit of protection, minimising the risk of using the IP and creating the best cost/benefit approach.

Ideally, you do not want to be investing significant sums in developing and protecting a project that ultimately you cannot protect and may expose you to infringement of third-party rights.

The questions to ask yourself are:

  1. Can we use/launch this brand, product or service without infringing third party rights?
  2. If yes, what can we protect?
  3. Of the protection options, which gives us the most value?

At this point you can then take a decision on what to protect, and more importantly whether to proceed with the project at all.

If you have an accountant, they should be your first stop for business advice. If you don’t have an accountant or they can’t help, BuBul has a wide range of experts available. For more advice on Intellectual Property, contact our expert* Matt on LinkedIn.

*We’ve picked experts we know and trust who are good at what they do. All of them will give you at least an extra 30 minutes free advice if you contact them and would then charge their normal prices. They don’t pay to be on BuBul and don’t give us any money from anything they earn as an expert.