The Global Innovation Index 2017 charts the UK as the fifth most innovative country in the world. Although this is down from third place in 2016, the reputation for UK innovation and research worldwide remains strong.
There’s no doubt that with the current political and economic uncertainty, businesses will need to cash in on this reputation for UK innovation and enhance their creativity to compete in foreign markets that can provide the expansion and growth they seek.
This is something the government has picked up on, with its recent announcement to raise UK investment in research and development to 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product over the next ten years. Brexit and the fear of the UK economy being left behind versus its global competitors are the likely catalysts for this move.
This growing investment and push to creating a progressive culture of UK innovation increases the importance of British businesses protecting their ideas from being appropriated by rivals. Doing so will help our country’s businesses and universities compete on the global stage and drive the economic growth of the country.
In years gone by, what might need protecting may have been based more on tangible items like new pieces of machinery. Now, intangible items like digital forms of UK innovation are a major source of wealth for businesses which also need protecting. Many who have created a business idea can often be unsure of whether they should protect the products or services they offer, or even how to get such protection.
Known as intellectual property, these rights when obtained can be the source of competitive advantage for businesses, rewarding them for their creativity. Also, aside from the obvious commercial benefits of being the only entity able to sell what you sell or do what you do, intellectual property can make businesses more of an attractive investment and be used as a security for loans.
So with these advantages available, how do you know whether you need intellectual property protection? How can UK innovation be preserved?
Understand the different types of protection available, as not all are relevant to every business, product or idea. If your company focuses around a new invention, like many of the UK tech startups, then a patent could well be the protection you need to defend your differentiator.
Copyright is for when your business produces original work like literature or music. Then there are trade marks, which help companies protect the different elements of a brand identity, and designs, which are very effective in protecting the appearance of certain products.
Once you have determined which protection you need then there are a few important things to remember.
Firstly, do you own it? The nature of expertise means that someone who comes up with an idea or concept will not necessarily be the one to bring it to life. For example, if you use an agency to come up with your new brand or a developer to create your app, then there is a chance the ownership will stay with the creator if the proper contracts aren’t in place.
Secondly, as businesses look to expand outside of the UK and enter new markets, other rules can apply. Getting the correct intellectual property rights in place is an important success factor for businesses.
As you can imagine, intellectual property rights are treated differently by each country with products and services only being protected in the countries in which those rights are awarded.
With its ability to open up new opportunities in markets across the world, innovation is set to play a vital role in the growth of the UK and its prosperity. Without the required safeguards in place like intellectual property, opportunities could be missed, allowing competitors to take advantage of UK companies’ products or services, impacting greatly on their market share and sales.
Therefore, if the country is to push forward over the next few years, a supportive innovation infrastructure will need to be established with intellectual property at its heart.
Matthew Shaw is equity partner at Forresters
In business, some categories rumble along for years, with everybody playing the same game, driving down costs, responding to customer needs and making the numbers.