International Trade

Export push brings importance of intellectual property protection to the surface

6 min read

03 March 2015

The president of Mexico is on a state visit to the UK this week to build up trade and export links between the two nations.

Already, according to the UKTI, British carmakers Lotus and McLaren have set out plans to open showrooms in Mexico City – with toy firm Hamleys also looking at launching its first store in the country.

Expect further announcements and good news for UK plc as the week progresses. 

We have been told often enough by government and our business leaders that going global will form major part of our country’s recovery from recession.

Businesses are aware of the importance but it can be a daunting prospect to take those first steps abroad.

One of the most worrying aspects of making a maiden move is the issue of intellectual property and how best to protect that valuable brand or key piece of kit you’ve been developing and building for years.

“You love the business you have created. It is your baby which you have nurtured and grown,” said Paul Cox intellectual property lawyer at law firm Clarke Wilmott. “Your brand has taken off and the business is doing well. Then you get a letter that changes everything. A legal representative from a country abroad contacts you to say that you have infringed their intellectual property rights.”

So how can you best protect your vital IP when venturing abroad?

Let’s take branding first. Cox suggests obtaining trade mark protection before you enter new markets.

“Obtaining a trade mark can prevent third parties from using your brand or a confusingly similar brand to yours, protecting your investment in advertising and the goodwill of your business,” he advised. 

Businesses are advised to research whether other businesses are using a similar brand to theirs which could prevent them from obtaining a registered trade mark.

If all is clear then British firms can obtain a Community trade mark covering all EU member states with filing costs of around £1500. They could also look at the Madrid Protocol which is an international trade mark filing system allowing a single application for cover in over 90 countries worldwide.

Read more about IP and business:

Next is inventions and patents. 

Cox commented that if your business is based on a new invention, such as a new product or process, then “consider obtaining a patent to obtain a monopoly to maximise your ability to exploit the marketplace”.

It should be considered for the countries you want to sell into or where you plan to manufacture.

The process usually begins when getting your UK patent providing 20 years of cover. Under the Paris convention firms have 12 months after securing UK cover to then file for international protection.

You can apply for a patent either through a series of national applications or a European/worldwide patent which details which individual countries it is protected in. 

“Patents prevent third parties from undertaking various acts in relation to a product or process which is covered by the patent. It is irrelevant if the third party creates the product or process independently – this is still a potential infringement,” said Cox. “A patent would therefore provide a monopoly right giving a clear advantage in the marketplace for the duration of the patent.”  

It can be costly, up to £10,000 for an application, particularly when you consider that there will be a delay in booking your first sales from your new international markets. But if you do not protect your IP then a competitor or counterfeiter can take your business sales away and batter your reputation.

Perhaps list the 20 or so countries you think you will get the most sales from in the next 20 years or so and get protection there. If you have no intention of ever selling your paint brushes in Mongolia for example then don’t waste the time, cost and effort of gaining protection there.

You can also protect the look of your products through obtaining registered design rights, either national rights or the broader Community rights which cover all member states of the EU.

Don’t rest on your laurels though after gaining protection. You should keep a beady eye on any possible or potential infringements and make it clear that you are ready to enforce your IP rights. You can’t be afraid of going into battle to defend your firm.

That could mean a long and emotionally straining legal process but having that IP protection gives you major reassurance.

“Our globalised economy means that countries, businesses and individuals are all inter-connected and that intellectual property transcends borders. Therefore, you must protect your brand, products and ideas from other businesses abroad,” stated Cox.

It is a complex area and businesses should try and seek specialist advice before they consider trading abroad.

It could be the most intellectual move you ever make.

Image: Shutterstock