In these difficult times, intellectual property is becoming an increasingly valuable asset. After all, it's your ideas and innovations that make your company special; it's the reason why your customers choose you. It also makes your company more valuable, because it stops people coming along and pinching your ideas - thus protecting your market share. So MT asked the Government-run Intellectual Property Office for its top tips on how businesses can protect their big ideas...
1. Understand the benefits:
Protecting your intellectual property isn't just about making sure nobody copies your idea. If you're running a business, it should be an integral part of your overall strategy, helping it to grow and develop. If you're just starting out, investing in intellectual property will not only secure your business at the start-up phase, but will also add value and help it on the path to success.
2. Know your IP rules
Does your invention need patent protection? Do you need to protect your name, brand or logo? Is the look or appearance of your product in need of protection? Have you considered copyright? Or could you need all four? It is essential to know your intellectual property, and make sure you make the right decision to protect your idea.
3. Do your market research
Check that your idea is as 'unique' as you think it is. A simple internet search should be the first step - do your research, make sure your product doesn't already exist and check out the competition. You can also carry out a free online search of records at the Intellectual Property Office.
4. Plan ahead
If you have a lot of business assets, you will need to take time to put together a concise plan of how and when you are going to look after your ideas and make sure your valuable IP is protected. Think of it as a natural and essential extension of your business plan.
5. Get free expert advice
Enlist the help of the Intellectual Property Office at every stage of the process, right from when you're starting out. We can not only guide you through the process but also put you in touch with other experts and legal professionals who can ensure that every base is covered.
6. Start early
Once you have enlisted the help of the experts and identified the right elements of intellectual property for you or your business, it is important to go ahead and get the protection process started as soon as possible. A trade mark application can be approved in a matter of months, however patent registration in particular takes longer to complete. The sooner you start the process, the sooner you will see the benefits.
7. Take advantage of the IP Healthcheck tool
This tool was launched in February this year and is free to use on our website. It has been designed to help businesses find out how to protect and exploit their intellectual assets. This tool bridges the gap between creating your product or service, and going ahead with the actual process of protecting your idea. Through the website, you can identify what you need to do and why, as well as having the different types of intellectual property fully explained. Don't wait for a potential problem - secure your IP as soon as you can. Once it is out in the public domain, it may be too late.
8. Talk to other businesses that have done it
One way to do this is to take advantage of The Intellectual Property Office's IP awareness seminars, which are free and run across the UK. Not only are they aimed at businesses that want to find out more about the benefits of using IP, but you can also listen to other businesses that have employed the IP process successfully.
9. Remember that IP is not just for big businesses!
Intellectual Property is not the exclusive domain of large corporations. Smaller businesses, if well-informed, can gain a great deal. For instance, a manufacturer based in the UK was looking to improve its products and began research. It identified the technology it was looking for in existing patents, and secured an exclusive five-year European licence for the technology. It now has what it believes will be a privileged position in the UK for the foreseeable future. Conversely, failure to recognise IP can prove costly: the owner of a small restaurant in London estimated that she lost a quarter of her business when someone else opened a restaurant nearby and used her un-registered trade mark.
10. Don't forget the basics:
- Every business will own some form of Intellectual Property
- The importance of IP is increasing
- An effective IP strategy can protect market position
- An effective IP strategy can give competitive advantage
- An effective IP strategy may provide the incentive investors are looking for
For more advice and guidance on all types of intellectual property from the IPO, call 0845 9500 505 or go to www.ipo.gov.uk. And as ever, add any other tips below…