(1) Burying your head in the sand and hoping IP mistakes just go away
I wonder how many readers have considered how Intellectual Property (IP) might benefit their business? I’m guessing the answer will be very few because IP is rarely a priority. By ignoring IP many businesses are missing out on potential opportunities to save on UK corporation tax, restrict competitors’ activities and add value for investors.
Many bosses ignore IP until it’s too late and they find themselves in an IP dispute that could have had a different outcome, or saved a lot of expense, if IP had been considered earlier.
One client was delighted to find out the new product they’d developed was patentable. They went on to make significant corporation tax savings using the “Patent Box”, so that the cost of the patent application was paid for in less than a year. Another client hadn’t considered how registered IP rights could be used to remove infringing eBay listings without the expense of suing for infringement.
How can you avoid such IP mistakes? Don’t just bury your head in the sand, all you need to do is Google IP mistakes to find out how important it is to get a strategy in place.
(2) Telling everyone what your idea is before getting your IP in place
Sadly, this is among the IP mistakes I encounter more than I would like. An inventor has a great idea and gets in touch to discuss filing a patent application. When I ask for information, they direct me to their website. In many cases this makes filing a patent application impossible – in the UK and Europe an invention must be kept secret until a patent application is filed.
In order to be granted a patent, an invention must be new. But if you have already publicised the invention and told the world about it before a patent application is filed, it’s not new. The internet allows many ways to disclose an invention inadvertently. Publishing details on a website is easy, as is seeking crowdfunding or making a social media post. All of these could potentially invalidate a patent application.
How can you avoid such IP mistakes? Easy, don’t tell everyone.
(3) Thinking you’re covered because you’ve got the company name registered
Many people believe that registering a company name (or a domain name) means that you are then free to use the name. That’s not the case. You might not be free to use your new company name (or domain name), and what’s more you might not find out about it straight away. Most startup companies take a while to build awareness in the marketplace, and it’s not until growing and successful that they will appear on a competitors’ radar.
I often hear about companies forced into an expensive renaming or rebrand because it infringed someone else’s rights. This happens at the worst time. Much of the goodwill and recognition built up with the old name or brand is lost as well as the monetary cost of rebranding.
Likewise, without a registered trademark, you might not be able to stop a competitor using your brand name.
How can you avoid this mistake? Often the simplest way is to register the name as a trademark right at the beginning. And as an added bonus you get an asset to add value to your company and can use the ® symbol to advertise that the brand is protected. A discussion with a trademark attorney will only cost you your time and could save money down the line.
It can be very tempting, faced with the expense of professional advice, to prepare and file a patent, trademark, or registered design application yourself. There’s a wealth of materials online and available at no cost, but when it comes to the crunch, DIY may be a false economy. Of course I would say that, you say, it’s how I make my living. Applications prepared without professional input can often be spotted very easily.
DIY IP can also send the wrong signal to potential investors. Trademarks and registered designs – will involve an investigation of those rights where their DIY nature may be picked up.
How can you avoid such IP mistakes? Seek professional advice. Yes, this will cost more than DIY, but there’s a lot of useful supporting work you can do to keep those costs manageable – for example use a free online patent database to research whether your invention is new before speaking to a patent attorney, and invest the time in describing an invention clearly.
Laurence Brown is partner at EIP