Five things a business needs to know about intellectual property
For many businesses, their tangible assets – buildings, equipment, machinery, vehicles – are considered valuable and worth protecting, and rightly so. However, concentrating on the tangible sometimes leads businesses to overlook something just as important – intellectual property.
Intellectual property is a vital asset for any business; it helps to develop key consumer loyalty, differentiating the business from its competitors, and can be sold or licensed, generating additional revenue if handled correctly. A business that does not protect its intellectual property can see products which it has spent its time and money developing copied, its market share eroded and its income adversely affected. It is crucial, therefore, that businesses take steps to protect their IP. But what can they do?
rradar’s head of IP, Emma Yates, has five top tips that should be on every business owner’s To Do list for 2023 and beyond to safeguard one of their most valuable assets. Here is what she recommends:
1) Protect what you own
“Ignoring IP assets (whether considering their financial value or even simply registering them) is an ongoing problem. Start-ups and scale-ups often overlook these assets in favour of dealing with other issues, which they see as business critical. However, more often than not, this comes back to haunt them when their branding or other assets are copied. It’s therefore even more important now, when there is so much economic uncertainty and everyone is vying for their place in their market, to make sure that you’re one step ahead and you:
a) know what you own; and
b) have protected it.
Make sure that you don’t ignore registered designs as well. Often clients think about trade marks. However, if you are dealing with new products and packaging, also think about whether you could get registered design right protection and take advice.”
2) Ensure thorough market research before launching new product or brand
"Conversely, make sure that you’ve set funds aside to ensure that you’re free to operate in your chosen market using your chosen brand. Clearance searches are (usually) quite affordable and they give you some comfort that, when launching a new product or brand, you’re not stepping on someone else’s toes, which ultimately can mean that you have to change your brand. This is an expensive process and can have a significant adverse effect on your reputation.”
3) Create a database of registered and un-registered assets
“It’s also important not to forget about your unregistered assets. Do you have a handle on what business critical confidential information you are relying on? Do you know who created it and when? Even more important, do you know who has access to it? Create a database of your non-registered IP assets so you know the answers to these questions. You should also assess who can access these assets. Some might be copyright material that’s out there in public. However, some might not. Be savvy and know what you have. If you ever need to prove ownership in litigation, this will be a godsend.”
4) Make sure you own the content that you have paid for
“I have lost count of the number of clients who think that if they pay for something, they own the IP underpinning it. That’s not always the case. Make sure that you get an assignment of IP when you appoint contractors, etc. Don’t let them rely on their standard terms and conditions where ownership may then be an issue.”
5) Be proactive and invest in your brand upfront to avoid unnecessary costs down the line
“Be inventive. If you want to build a brand that’s distinctive of you, that you can protect from copying, then make sure that you get advice on your brand and build something great. Use creative professionals and liaise with your lawyers as well so that you launch something that people will remember that’s also protectable. Then when, inevitably, people try to copy it, you have built a distinctive brand with a great name, your protection is lined up and you can take action against them.”
Every business owns intellectual property, whether it knows it or not. Emma’s expertise and experience mean that she is a valuable asset for any business that needs advice in this specialised area. Don’t make the mistake of assuming IP issues don’t apply to you – get expert advice before you end up counting the cost.