A lot of businesses in the UK don’t recognise the value of identifying and protecting their intangible assets. What’s more, many don’t appreciate they could actually make money from them.
Here are four steps to consider when looking at how to commercialise your intellectual property (IP).
Step 1: Identify it
A business’s IP is what makes it special; it’s what sets it apart from other companies and makes it better than its competitors.
There are typically four areas of a business we can explore to identify IP:
Brands: Brands are the core of any business and are vital in making a business’ products or services ‘sticky’ – i.e. encouraging repeat custom. It takes time, hard work and investment to create a recognisable brand with the desired associations. Logos, words, jingles and sometimes packaging can be protected by trade marks.
Technology: Whether it’s a key product that has been developed and sold or a process that has been set up to make processes more efficient, technology is always IP rich. Technology can be patented, kept as a trade secret or as specialist ‘know-how’. The problem with the latter two options is the secret can leak or the know-how can leave the company. Patenting technology can be the best way to protect – and make money – from technology.
Designs: For functional designs – such as the creation of a new pair of sunglasses or piece of furniture – the period of legal protection is generally short lived and minimal. If a consumer item has been created to look particularly visually attractive and better than other available options (think of Apple’s iPod, for example), it’s possible to use the Registered Design route to protect it.
Copyrights: You don’t just have to create technology or make products to have IP; for many consulting and online businesses, their biggest assets are the materials they produce – for example manuals, guides, websites and videos. Businesses invest a lot of time creating things such as databases and knowledge resources but then fail to recognise the value of that material.
Step 2: Protect it
As discussed briefly above, there are several ways of improving the protection of your IP, by registering trade marks, patents and registered designs.
A patent can become world class technology; it can uniquely distinguish a market position. The trade mark can become a valuable brand; it will keep the company’s offerings sticky to maximise repeat business opportunities.
The registered design can have the eye appeal that everyone wants; it will keep customers coming back for more of the same. The company with better information or databases will make manufacturing and distribution more efficient compared to those who don’t collect and use such material.
Protecting your IP can be a complicated – and at times costly – process. With the right advice it shouldn’t be either. However, it is important not to write off the cost of registering and acquiring IP as merely a cost to the business. It should be seen as an investment. If properly managed, a business’s IP should increase in value over time and provide a hedge fund for future profits.
Read two more steps to making money from your IP on page two…
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