Why you need to protect your business' intellectual property – and how to do it

14 July 2017

Protecting the identity and ideas of your SME is hugely important, as they’re what enable a business to stay competitive. Keeping your intellectual property ironclad seems like a no brainer (and it is), however, it’s something small business owners don’t always consider.

Many smaller businesses have limited resources available to them, which can mean that intellectual property protection is sometimes pushed to the background. However, a lack of the proper protective measures can put your business at risk – so it’s essential that intellectual property concerns are properly managed.

Intellectual property – the basics

Put simply, intellectual property (IP) refers to the features and creations of your business, which make it different from the rest; it’s comprised of those unique ideas –  the ones you spent hours, days, months or even years refining – and which are worth protecting.

In this article, we’ll be talking you through why it’s important to protect your IP, and how to ensure your ideas, services and business stay as your own.

sme team researching ip protection

Why is intellectual property protection important?

1. It keeps your ideas safe

As mentioned above, it’s important to make sure your intellectual property is safe. No matter the idea, business or service, there will always be others looking to duplicate successes and pass them off as their own.

If you don’t safeguard them, there’s the risk that others could take your idea or product to market before you have the chance – drastically reducing your opportunity to profit from that which you’ve created.

Predatory IP ‘trolls’ accumulate the intellectual property of actual businesses – patenting, copyrighting and trademarking them to browbeat “infringers” into legal settlements. Clearly, that’s not something that any SME wants to get involved in.

So, whatever the size of your business, it’s strongly recommended you consider protecting your IP.

2. It protects the growth of your business

Without the correct protection, businesses leave themselves open to losing their USPs and, potentially, their market share, which could mean slower business growth or loss of revenue – and in the early development stages of an SME, this can be hugely damaging.

One issue that likely deters SMEs from seeking out IP protection is the perceived expense. It’s true there can be significant costs to deal with, but the money saved in the long term by not having to deal with copycats or exploitative competitors makes it a sound investment.   

Furthermore, the cost of taking legal action against competitors using a business’ intellectual property is often far more expensive and time-consuming than protecting it in the first place – and often offers significantly lower chances of success.

3. It’s simple to sort out

Though it may seem like a slow-moving and imposing process, protecting original ideas is surprisingly easy to do. Changes in the law and with the proliferation of electronic filing systems have helped to streamline the process and lower the associated costs.

Whether you go the DIY route or get help from a solicitor, protecting intellectual property is surprisingly easy.  

business owner finding ip information

4. It lets you trial your ideas

Much like buying a new suit or car, you wouldn’t splash out before trying them first. You can apply the same thinking to your intellectual property: observe how your idea is received before you take it to market.

A provisional patent protects the filing date, giving you one year to file the full-length application. This gives you time to conduct market research, prepare the full application, and lets you decide whether it’s worth carrying out a full patent for your idea.

How can you protect your intellectual property?

Patents

If you’ve created a new idea, whether it’s a new product or an amendment to an existing product, you’ve got yourself an invention. That means you should think about patent protection.

It doesn’t matter how simple that thing may be – as long as it’s a new solution to a problem, patenting it means you can stop others profiting from or taking advantage of your invention without asking.

Copyright

It is essential to register a copyright on written works like computer code, artwork, even screenplays, as early as possible. While a copyright does not cover ideas and information themselves, it protects their executions – the forms in which they are written.

Be sure to add the copyright symbol, your name and creation date to emphasise that your work is properly copyrighted.  

Trademarks

Distinguishing yourself from your competition is important. Even if the product, idea or service you have isn’t specifically new or innovative, standing out is still important. Trademarking helps with this. It’s an integral tool for marketing your IP, and registering it stops others from using it too.

Whether it’s a logo, a made-up word, or both, your trademarked IP represents the brand – so using something memorable and recognisable is a good way of getting the public’s attention.

small business team discussing ideas

Registered Designs

If you want to safeguard the appearance of your product, then making it a registered design is what you need. It protects the external shape of the product, allowing you to establish exclusive rights to its design.

It can be processed much more quickly than a patent, and so is an effective way of gaining short term protection while your full patent application is reviewed. In legal terms, it makes taking action against infringement a lot more straightforward, too.

It should be noted that before you apply for any of the above, it’s vital that all the details of your design or invention are kept confidential.

What else should you consider?

Whether you’re considering protecting your IP, or you’re in the middle of doing so, here’s a few other things you might want to consider:

  • Make sure your idea is original. This sounds like an obvious one, but use patent searches and trademark searches early on in a product’s development to see if another business has already protected it.
  • Protect trade secrets. Make sure that any employees or independent contractors sign strong non-disclosure agreements. You can’t register or keep trade secrets protected without these, so it’s worth looking in to.
  • Record the process. Make sure you track the development of intellectual property with dated and signed copies of drawings and drafts, in order to create an audit trail.
  • Assess at every stage. Strengthen and reinforce any new design appearances with revised design registration.

Gazprom Energy are one of the UK’s leading providers of business energy solutions, helping thousands of small businesses manage their gas and electricity contracts. To find out more about what we can offer your business, visit the homepage or call us today on 0845 230 0011.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third-party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or represe


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