Why does Intellectual Property matter?
For many entrepreneurs, there is an unnecessary barrier to knowing what to do to protect a business’s innovations and creations. This is because the topic can come across as confusing or considered too costly legally. And so intellectual property is often overlooked, that is until it’s too late.
Sadly, it’s often when a business has a problem such as someone using their name or stealing their product design, that the avoidable legal headaches and time distraction of an IP dispute are frustratingly real.
That’s why it’s essential to have the IP conversation early in a business’s growth cycle.
What counts as Intellectual Property?
How do we have a clear idea of what intellectual property is and how important it is for your business? The answer to that is quite simple; whatever new thing you create in your business that gives you an advantage over a competitor, could be seen as potential intellectual property.
Definition: Intellectual Property is a creation of the mind. There are certain rights granted to individuals and businesses for exclusive use of these creations for differing periods of time depending on the kind of creation and protection. These rights allow you, as the creator, to make money from them. Rights are territorial to countries or sometimes trade blocs.
For example, does your business have a brand name it likes to be recognised for? Then it would be wise to seek to register a trade mark for it.
Do you have an innovative process that gives you a competitive edge? Then it may be important to view it at as a trade secret and take the necessary contractual steps to protect it within the company.
Do you have a ground breaking invention that you want to prevent others from copying and using? Then going down the patent route maybe worth all the investment you need to gain the state granted monopoly of twenty years to keep your advantage and be rewarded for your innovation.
Likewise, IP protection for a design. Especially if the visual appeal is what creates the value in the product.
Then there’s everything else you create such as marketing content, web pages, training manuals or any other creative content, which as it happens, are protected by copyright.
The IP family
In our IP webinars and workshops at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre, we often refer to the ‘IP family’. That is the six different members of the family that protects particular types of creations and innovations.
The six members of the IP family
patents for inventions and processes;
trade marks for brand names and logos;
registered designs for three dimensional shapes and patterns for things like products and packaging;
copyright for written content, image creation, music and software;
trade secrets for secret internal processes or recipes; and
know-how for pretty much everything else of value such as knowledge, partnerships and even the value of your marketing database.
Every business has at least one, but often multiple types of intellectual property. Which is why we like to have the conversation around what to prioritise and protect.
Because at an early stage, it needn’t break the bank. Registered protection for trade marks and designs with the IPO (intellectual property office) will be in the hundreds, not thousands of pounds. Patents, another registered right, are considerably more but there are ways to balance and stretch out the costs involved.
What’s more the unregistered rights (or automatic rights) such as copyright cost you nothing initially. There is only a cost in defending your rights if an infringement is found.
Which is why we also recommend putting resource aside for defending your IP if it ever comes to it. And your IP is something that can be revisited over time and prioritised by where you intend to trade (be at home or abroad) and what are the things of most value.
Lastly, we need to see IP as an asset in your business that increases in worth as your business gains customers, good will and value. It’s what adds to a business’s sale price, if all the necessary IP has been registered and valued. So doing the IP research now, and finding out what you need to know can make all the difference in you protecting and earning from your valuable innovations and creations.
Where can I get help?
The national network of Business & IP Centres is here to help and advise businesses on their IP strategy and much else. You can find your nearest centre by following the link below.