Understanding what intellectual property (IP) your business has, how it may be protected, and its value to your business can be the difference between a successful pitch to potential investors, or them declaring "I'm out!"

Below are five key tips to consider when it comes to getting your IP portfolio into a strong position for your business.

Know what type of protection you need

Businesses fundamentally need a basic understanding of what IP they have created, and if it is new and valuable.

Generally speaking:

  • Technical inventions for products or methods may be covered via patent protection;
  • The shape/appearance of objects can be covered via design protection;
  • Trade marks protect branding, which is used to distinguish goods and services; and
  • Copyright is used to protect literary, artistic and musical works (irrespective of artistic quality!). Copyright may also be used to protect certain types of software if patent protection is not available.

Once this has been established, it may also be worth carrying out a freedom to operate search with respect to your IP, to determine whether your IP may infringe on existing rights of others.

Keep it confidential

Keeping your idea secret can be vital in obtaining protection of your intellectual property. With respect to patents in particular, you will not be able to gain protection of your invention if your invention has already been disclosed to the public.

This can pose difficulties when discussing IP with potential investors. Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) should be used to allow you to share your idea with potential investors, whilst also ensuring that it is kept confidential. Template NDAs can be found on the UK Government website, which are easily editable to suit.

Ensure you are aware of who legally owns the IP

Ensuring you know who the true owner of any IP created is key to gaining protection of it. For example, if IP is created by an employee of a company, the IP will likely be owned by the employer under UK law. Alternatively, IP created in a person's own time is generally owned by the individual.

To avoid ownership disputes, have any contributors to the IP assign their rights to your business before pursuing protection.

Know your markets

IP protection is provided by country/groups of countries, so knowing the key markets for your business is vital. Will you be manufacturing and/or selling? If so, where? Will you be exporting goods? Where are your competitors based?

Answering these questions will give you an excellent start in determining what countries/regions you should protect your IP, and help to devise a great IP strategy.

Set a budget

Protecting IP can be costly, so the potential value of your IP should be assessed before you seek to protect it. Creating an IP budget will show potential investors that you are aware of the costs and have planned for them.

The UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) website is an excellent source of information and is certainly your friend when it comes to getting the IP of your business in shape for facing potential investors and vast amounts of free information can be found.

This article originally appeared in the February issue of Young Company Finance Scotland, who we are delighted to support. For more advice on protecting your IP, contact one of our IP specialists today.

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.