What are the key Intellectual Property elements I should consider when starting and running a business?
Intellectual Property (IP) rights are intangible, which often means they are overlooked when starting and running a business. However, they are valuable assets, which in many cases are the most valuable assets of a business. Key IP rights to consider and actions to take are as follows:
All businesses will have some kind of information that is proprietary to them and of value. The value can be assessed by considering the damage to the business that would be caused if the information was freely available to competitors. Information which may be confidential can include technological know-how, but also includes such information as other forms of know-how, market research data, customer details and lists of suppliers. It is essential to take steps to protect confidential information, for example by limiting access to the information, securing the information, for example using passwords to protect documents and data, and putting in place suitable agreements with other parties to protect the confidentiality of the information needed to be disclosed.
Brand Protection and Trade Marks
For many businesses, for example those in the service or retail sectors, the brand of the business is its most valuable asset. It is the thing that allows customers to identify and reach out to the business. Therefore, all aspects of the brand should be protected. If in doubt about this, consider how the business would fare if a close competitor started to use the same or a confusingly similar brand.
Brand protection is relatively inexpensive and is achieved by registering the relevant brands, words and logos as trade marks. Once registered, the protection is cheap to maintain and can be kept in place for the lifetime of the business.
If the business is selling a product, it is likely that a lot of time, effort and expense has been put into the design of the product, be it the item itself and/or its packaging. The design is likely to be something that customers readily recognise and which sets the business and its product apart from others in the market. Again, designs can and should be protected at an early stage, certainly before the product is launched.
Design protection is also relatively inexpensive and is achieved by registering the relevant design elements. Registrable designs include aspects of the shape of products and packaging, but also extend to design elements of interfaces, such as Apps and online portals. Once registered, the design protection is also cheap to maintain and can be kept in place for up to 25 years.
Technological innovations are also very valuable assets, which keep a business ahead of the competition. A wide range of technological innovations can be protected by way of patent protection. Once a new product is launched, the underlying technology is made available to all. Without adequate protection, competitors will simply gain a free ride on the coat tails of the costly and time consuming development undertaken by the innovative business.
While more costly than other forms of protection, patenting can be essential for an innovative business. Without adequate patent protection, growing the business may be impossible and potential investors will certainly look for a well developed and executed patent strategy to protect any new technology before agreeing to invest.
It is essential to a business at any stage to ensure that it owns all its IP rights. This is likely not a problem when the creative work is carried out in-house. However, in many cases, key aspects of the creative process, be it product design, brand development, website design, or software development, are passed to someone outside the business. In such cases, it is essential to agree that, at the end of the development, all rights to the work product, including all IP rights, belong to the business. It is preferable that this is put into writing and a suitable agreement put in place, which can be relied upon later to demonstrate ownership, for example to a potential investor or in the case of any dispute.
Every business will have IP rights. These rights will be of considerable value and provide protection and an advantage over competitors. Identifying and protecting these rights should be started early and be maintained as an ongoing practice within the business. If in doubt about the value of protection, simply consider how you would feel if a competitor was free to copy key aspects of your business and the harm this would do to your business.
- J. Akers is a firm of Chartered Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys, based in the South West of England, representing clients throughout the UK, Europe, North America and the Far East. From brand and design protection to patenting new technologies, we are well placed to assist companies with their IP needs, including preparing and filing new patent applications for innovative technology, as well as preparing and filing trade mark applications to protect new brands and new designs.
We have an experienced, approachable and responsive team, providing our clients with commercially-focussed IP advice and related services.
For further information please contact:
- J. Akers & Co
Tel: +44(0) 1872 266810