29/04/2014

By Mark Barber, Growth Manager for Innovation at GrowthAccelerator

Intellectual Property, or IP for short, is something that is overlooked by many business owners. It’s often considered to be the preserve of businesses producing ground-breaking innovations, but in fact IP is something that all business owners should consider.

Here we look at some of the dos and don’ts around Intellectual Property and how you can make sure you protect your business and its assets adequately.

DO think beyond patents – Yes, patents have their place but they’re not right for every business. For example a retail business may not have anything to patent but that doesn’t mean that it should ignore IP completely. Design protection is much underused and happens to be significantly cheaper than patenting. There are also options available such as protecting your brand name, domain name and the content of your website. All of these will help safeguard your company’s assets, which is vital to create a strong basis for business growth.

DON’T necessarily form a company – For some entrepreneurs, setting up a business to make and sell their products is an option that leads to great success. But this isn’t always the best route for all innovators to take. Evaluate where your strengths and interests truly lie and if that’s with the creative process rather than running a business to sell the product, consider licensing out to an existing business that has the resource to get your product to market. This may prove to be less risky, more profitable and a better use of your skills – just make sure you choose the right partner for you.

DO consider IP early – So many entrepreneurs launch into creating a product without doing any background research and don’t start looking at their IP until it’s too late. Make sure you think about it as early into the concept development stage as possible to identify any potential infringement issues which could have serious consequences for your business. You can get information on patents, trademarks and registered designs on the IPO website and even a Google search can produce information on existing brand names or unregistered trademarks. However…

DON’T rush into IP – Wait until you are ready before applying for patents. If you make an application but aren’t ready to move forward with the next stage in the allocated time, you can ruin your opportunity to protect your innovation. So many UK inventors don’t have full scale protection in all required territories as they did not have the resources to file patents in the time available.

DO get expert advice – IP can be a bit of an information minefield so consult a specialist rather than relying on insights from friends or family whose knowledge might not be up to scratch. The wrong advice can cause problems so consider talking to a patent or trademark attorney or a specialist IP firm. If in doubt, talk to a trusted business adviser who will be able to point you in the right direction.

DON’T destroy your own patents – Doing too much with a new innovation can mean that many entrepreneurs destroy their own patents, by disclosing too much information and forgetting confidentiality agreements. It’s easy to get excited about an invention but sometimes efforts to prove its commerciality can deem your innovation no longer patentable.

Intellectual Property is different for each business so there are no hard and fast rules on how to go about protecting it. Just remember that regardless of the shape and size of your business, protecting your IP should be a vital consideration for building and growing your business.