Protect your IP, protect your business - Business Works
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Protect your IP, protect your business

Sarah Staines, Consultant Solicitor, Breeze & Wyles Solicitors Legal matters, such as the protection of Intellectual Property (IP), can be a daunting prospect for small business owners predominantly focussed on running and growing their companies. However, its during times of growth, particularly international expansion, that knowing how to protect business assets can prove invaluable.

All businesses have Intellectual Property, but most dont realise its value until it is too late. Identifying IP and learning how to protect it can be one of the most crucial things you do for your business.

I recently had the pleasure of spending a morning with six business owners at a masterclass held at Breeze & Wyles in Hertford and arranged as part of Breakthrough, the SME support programme from Santander. The aim of the masterclass was to help business owners understand exactly what their Intellectual Property is, how they should ring fence it and how to start managing it with a clear and appropriate strategy. The masterclass generated some really positive conversation, with all of the business owners identifying different types of IP within their businesses.

Intellectual Property can be anything from trademarks or logos, to the confidential information and know-how held by the people that work in the business. Identifying what makes a business successful, compared to its rivals, is a really good place to start. If its a specific element of the production technique, then the business owner could consider a patent to protect it. If its that the business wants to develop or has become a trusted name, trademarking would be worth considering.

Before embarking on growth or exporting plans, its a good idea to carry out an internal audit in order to identify the businesses existing IP and take the first steps to protecting it. The sorts of questions worth considering are:

  • What makes my business successful compared to my rivals?
  • Is there an industry standard for IP ownership? What do our rivals do?
  • Have we checked whether there are any issues with the word / marks / signs we use as trademarks in the countries in which we want to expand?
  • Do we use strap lines, service or product names? Are they registered?
  • Do we have registered trademarks? Are they in date?
  • If we make products, do we need to consider patents?
  • Have we checked the local requirements for patents in the countries we anticipate selling our products in the next five to 10 years?
  • Do we own software or have we had software created for us?

Once the intellectual property has been identified and how it is currently being looked after is understood, the business owner is in a good position to consider its expansion strategy. There is no 'one size fits all' approach, but its important to be equipped with as much information as possible. Analysing the current marketplace and understanding the individual risks is absolutely essential, as is considering which countries the business intends to work within the next five to 10 years, whether that is in terms of selling to, or manufacturing in. It is important to understand what the target countries are and what the local rules are there. When it comes to protecting intellectual property, its all down to jurisdiction. Where are the main rivals located? Its important to have a grasp of what theyre doing and where theyre doing it, so as to not be taken by surprise later down the line.

The three most important things to remember when considering intellectual property and how to go about protecting it are:

  1. Registration, ring fencing and protection are key;
  2. Understanding the jurisdictional nature of IP rights;
  3. Knowledge of the local laws and procedures.

If you look after your IP, it can look after you.

Sarah Staines is a Consultant Solicitor with Breeze & Wyles Solicitors:

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