Almost everyone has heard or read that intellectual property
(IP) can be of significant value to a business. Whatever form that
IP takes, growing a business without an effective IP strategy can
lead to major problems later down the line when a business becomes
successful enough to be worth copying. If there's nothing
stopping a competitor from doing what you're doing, it may not
be long before your competitive advantage disappears.
There is nothing more disheartening than seeing years of your
hard work, time and money going to waste when a competitor rips off
your product or service without having to incur any of the risks or
costs that you did.
So what can you do about it?
As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you've
undoubtedly heard about the importance of IP and given at least
some thought to patents, trade marks, copyright and designs. But
did you know the following 6 facts about protecting IP?
An invention doesn't need to be
"high-tech" to be considered patentable. There is a
common misconception that you can only obtain patents for
"high-tech" innovations. This couldn't be further
from the truth. As long as an innovation is new and inventive, it
could be patentable. For example, the "George Foreman"
grill was protected by a patent. Whilst the original patent expired
in 2014, it gave the company behind the grill (Tsann Kuen USA,
Inc.) a 20 year period of market exclusivity to build up an almost
unassailable lead (and netting the former boxing champion, George
Foreman, an estimated $200million in promotional earnings).
An invention doesn't even need to
be a product to be considered patentable. Many people think that
software is unpatentable. That is incorrect. If software achieves a
technical effect and is new and inventive, it is patentable. The
most famous example of a software patent is the patent that covers
Google's "Page Rank" algorithm (i.e. the algorithm
which powers Google's search engine and which transformed the
company into a tech unicorn). You or your business might have
developed exciting software which does something that no one else
has thought of. A patent might be just what's needed to
convince investors that your concept is the "next big
thing" or alternatively provide you with an asset that can be
sold or licenced for additional revenue.
Investing in IP is the same as
investing in any other business asset. Whilst there are some
upfront costs, you end up with an asset which can be sold, licenced
out, used as security, or monetised in the same way as any other
asset. Whilst the concept of securing a loan against a patent may
seem alien to some, a patent that gives its owner a 20 year period
of market exclusivity can often be seen to be more valuable than
many tangible assets owned by fledgling businesses. If you know
you're on to a brilliant idea but haven't found the cash to
really grow your business, investing in a patent is a great way to
create value with limited resources.
Design protection is an often
overlooked, relatively cheap (or indeed free) form of IP protection
which can prevent competitors from copying the appearance, shape
and configuration of a product. Unregistered design right exists
automatically without having to submit any registrations.
Registered design right involves submitting drawings of your
designs to the UK intellectual property office in a relatively
straightforward process. However, as the recent "Trunki"
children's travel suitcase court proceedings have demonstrated,
care must be taken when filing registered design applications to
ensure that they provide an adequate level of protection; if not, a
competitor might be able to circumvent the protection by making
only slight alterations to their product.
Trade marks protect your brand. If
you haven't already registered your business' name and its
key products or services, do it now. It's quick, cheap, and
easy to do, and can save you a lot of hassle when a competitor
tries to copy your brand.
Copyright is a right that exists
automatically and which can be monetised in the same way as the
other IP rights. You might be sitting on a great source of
additional revenue without knowing. Check to see if you have
anything that attracts copyright protection and which could be
Whichever way you've chosen to harness IP to grow your
business, make sure you are fully informed of all of the options
This article originally appeared on UBT Business Magazine
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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1.The trade mark shall not entitle the proprietor to prohibit its use in relation to goods which have been put on the market in the Community under that trade mark by the proprietor or with his consent.
The UK government has not yet invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (this is likely to happen by the end of March), and the UK's actual exit from the European Union is at least two years away.
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