Intellectual Property (IP) is an area that many startups and SMEs fail to consider at an early stage in business growth, despite it being one of its most valuable assets.
Aside from setting a business aside from its competitors, IP creates brand recognition and, most importantly, gives the company its true value.
Over the last 12 months alone, SMEs making legal claims to protect their IP has risen by a massive 68%, with initial IP registrations increasing greatly, demonstrating that more and more Business Owners are waking up to the importance of protecting their IP for the long-term.
But where exactly do you start if you’re a new business owner and a novice to the world of IP? Moreover, what is the actual process for registering IP and how does it add value to your business?
Assess your intellectual property
Firstly, it is wise to critically analyse your unique selling point and review what products or services you are creating and how you are positioning them in the market. This gives you the opportunity to assess what areas you wish to protect and identify where to develop the business in the future, ranging from logos, taglines and branding through to physical inventions, such as unique software platforms.
Remember, ideas themselves cannot be protected. However, if you are concerned about someone sharing or using a particular idea, the best option is to create a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), which can be applied to any relevant scenario – ranging from the protection of sensitive business information to pitching a new product to a group of potential investors.
Register a Trade mark or Patent
Once you have critically analysed your IP, think about what you can Trade Mark or Patent.
A trade mark is any sign, be it a word or logo or even numbers, that represents your brand and distinguishes it from others.
An easy way to apply for a Trade Mark is by submitting an application directly to the Intellectual Property Office, which can be found via the Gov.uk website. The process is simple and self-explanatory but requires thought around what exactly you want to be trademarked and what ‘class’ it sits under. Once the Trade Mark has been listed, members of the public have a short time period in which to contest it and if no responses are received, the trade mark will be yours.
Once you register a trade mark, you will be able to take legal action against anyone who uses your brand without your permission. Once the Trade mark is issued, make sure that you take the time to put the registered symbol next to your brand, slogan or its tagline to show that its yours and you can take legal action should someone attempt to use or replicate it.
Patents, on the other hand, are more complex and are designed to protect your invention and are only granted to inventions that no-one has ever thought of or built before. It is important to be diligent in what you are trying to register, so that it does not infringe on upon anyone else’s IP.
Consider a copyright
Copyright will be one of two types, intellectual property rights or industrial property rights and covers anything that an individual or company creates. It can incorporate words (e.g. text for websites), images, photographs and training manuals. For the tech industry, Copyright can also extend to code.
Using this example, when code is written by an individual, independent developer, copyright automatically lies with that person unless it is sold or assigned to a client company. However, this would need to be agreed within a commercial contract.
Unlike Trade Marks or Patents, Copyright is limited in that it only places protection on the original expression of the idea, content or imagery, not the underlying ideas themselves.
All Copyrights should be registered with the Copyright Office, and like the example of Trade Marks is a simple and self-explanatory process that can be completed online via the following website: https://www.copyright.gov
Review your position
The one mistake Entrepreneurs or Business Owners face when trying to protect their IP is complacency.
Have you developed a new product or service? Reviewed your branding recently? Or changed your tagline? When improving and growing your business, you need to review and grow your IP too, ensuring you have the correct Trade Mark, Copyright registration or Patent in place with each change and development.
Not taking the time to review your IP requirements on a consistent basis increases the risk of competitors being able to take and market key elements or USPs of your business and brand, which could be detrimental to both the growth of your business and its ongoing longevity.
Seek guidance from experts
If you are looking for further guidance or advice, there is a wide selection of information and support available. For example, the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) provides free training and also offers an online IP health check, together with guidance on how to register your IP and where.
However many business owners and entrepreneurs find it useful to actually speak to an expert, particularly for more complex cases, such as the Patent process.
Zain Ali is chief executive officer of CEO, Centuro Global
Further reading: The dangers of intellectual property infringement for small businesses
This article first appeared on Small Business’ sister site Growth Business