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Thursday, 2 April 2015

Member Blog: Top ten tips for getting to grips with intellectual property

By Laura T West, Trade Mark Attorney at Mathys & Squire Intellectual Property

Getting a handle on intellectual property can avoid costly problems and deliver long-term financial benefits to your business. Here are my top ten tips on getting to grips with intellectual property:

1. Think of your intellectual property  as a business asset

Intellectual property is an important but usually underrated business tool.  It can be what differentiates your business proposition, why your customers buy from you, and how they recognise you. Intellectual property is an asset that can be bought, sold, traded or potentially borrowed against.

2. Take professional advice

Whether your business is just starting out or is growing and successful, cost-cutting is always a temptation, but usually a false economy. Taking advice from an IP expert will ensure your intellectual property is properly protected.  A good IP expert will also advise you on what not to invest in and why.

3. Keep your ideas to yourself

Think of your intellectual property as valuable secrets. The more people know about your ideas, the more difficult it becomes to prove who owns them. Secrecy is particularly important for inventions, as they can only be patented if there is no evidence of it already existing in the public domain or having been disclosed.

4. Do your research

There are a number of Government initiatives related to intellectual property that offer businesses funding, free advice and tax breaks, so a little research could go a long way.

5. Protect your identity

Many businesses mistakenly believe that because their business is registered at Companies House, they alone have the right to use all or part of that name as a brand.  Others think that as their business is small, or not related to consumer products, they do not require trade mark protection. Without a registered trade mark, it is possible for someone else to register your company name (or something similar) and take legal action against you for using it.

6. Don’t buy a lemon

When putting together a business deal, such as a merger or acquisition, most businesses scrutinise the physical assets of a company, but take intellectual property at face value. Get professional advice to clarify the validity, value and ownership of all intellectual property, so that its impact on the deal can be established.

7. Think global

Intellectual property rights are territorial, so if your business is expanding (or is likely to expand) its operation overseas, protection must be sought in all territories that form part of the international strategy.  If you are looking to export or import, conduct searches beforehand as the rights to your brand may already belong to someone else and you may be infringing other IP overseas.

8. Check the small print

Businesses will often outsource work that is not part of their core function, such as research and development or design work, but many do not check the small print regarding intellectual property on contracts.  Savvy sub-contractors will often state that they own the rights to any intellectual property they develop/create, and charge a licensing fee to the business that commissioned the work.

9. Treat all ideas (even the bad ones) as valuable

One person’s trash is another’s treasure, as they say.  Many ideas that end up ‘on the cutting room floor’ have value, perhaps in another sector or with a different application, but are often discarded during the development process.  An independent third party (particularly an experienced IP expert) may be able to identify value in rejected material that can be sold or licensed to others.

10. Spread the word

Mistakes regarding intellectual property are usually made through ignorance than by conscious decision. Businesses should educate their staff regarding brand protection and provide them with clear processes to avoid disclosing or discarding valuable ideas.

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