When starting up a business a lot of time and effort is spent developing ideas, creating products and designing branding. IP protection should thus not be an afterthought.
There is a wide range of IP protection available to businesses – patents protect inventions, trademarks protect branding, design rights protect the appearance of products, and copyrights protect written, musical, dramatic, photographic and other creative works. Trade secrets and other information can also be protected by keeping that information secret.
IP should always be considered at the beginning of starting or acquiring a business or when launching a new product or branding campaign. Businesses can use IP protection to prevent competitors copying ideas and other valuable IP. If IP is not considered early on, businesses could lose valuable IP rights, or incur heavy costs in trying to gain protection or enforce their rights.
Similarly, no business wants to find itself threatened with an IP infringement action. For example, a business may have designed a new logo for its stationery, website and literature. After launching this, it may then decide to register the logo as a trade mark only to find out that registration is not possible as another business has already registered or is using a similar trade mark.
The time and expense incurred designing the logo and producing marketing materials could have been avoided had the business considered IP early on and conducted the proper trade mark clearances.
Furthermore, it makes commercial sense for businesses to consider IP rights – this will help to speed up the due diligence process if the business is later sold. IP assets also add value to a company and attract investment.
If a company or business is being acquired, it is important to ensure that the IP rights in ideas, products and branding are correctly identified, protected and transferred – a buyer does not want to have paid a significant sum for a business’ IP, only to later find out it does not belong to the entity it has bought.
Whilst protecting IP may seem like increased “red tape” there is support available for businesses. The Intellectual Property Office offers excellent resources to individuals and businesses alike, from guidance documents to entrepreneurial workshops. There are also a number of innovation centres that offer IP support to its members and the government has introduced IP-related tax relief schemes in recognition of the importance of creative and innovative businesses.
Gina Bicknell is partner in the corporate and commercial team at Thomson Snell & Passmore.