Businesses continue to face many challenges and the news is full of stories relating to security issues. It’s not just recent terrorist attacks; cybercrime and counterfeiting remain high on the list of ongoing threats.
This article, by Intellectual Property expert Jackie Maguire from Firm Advantage explains how the knowledge-based economy requires businesses to protect a wider base of assets than those kept under a traditional lock and key.
Around 80% of business value is now in its ‘intangible assets’. As well as those formally protected by legal registered rights (such as patents, trade marks and designs), intangible assets include things that may not be registered, together with know-how, skills, reputation, relationships, data, processes, procedures and information.
4 Intellectual Property challenges you can’t afford to ignore
- Understanding what intangible assets you have and how to protect them. This can be complex!
- If you’ve developed an innovative product, how do you make sure no-one else can produce a “rip-off” copy?
- If you sell a service and you want to publish your carefully crafted processes on your website – how can you stop a competitor stealing them?
- What if you think your processes are just common sense and therefore not worth protecting – are you right to ignore them?
With so much business value now contained within intangible assets, it’s important to understand which ones yield this value so you can manage your business properly. Identifying them, allocating a monetary value, protecting them from unauthorised use, and commercialisation are all part of developing an IP strategy.
But how do I develop an IP strategy?
One way is to appoint an outside specialist who can provide clear and definite opinions together with commercial and legal expertise. While accountants and tax specialists can advise on many aspects of a business, protecting, valuing and commercialising IP is best undertaken by an IP specialist.
A good IP specialist will identify all existing and potential intangible assets of value and recommend how you should secure and protect them. It is quite possible that the processes used to provide your business services could be providing your business’s competitive advantage. In which case it would not be appropriate to publish the details on your website: it’s better to keep the details under wraps.
It can be possible to productise those services, name them and then to advertise the benefits, without giving away the secrets and details of how those services are delivered.
Another management issue within a services business is the retention of the key skills required to deliver the services and to prevent leakage of confidential information. When your processes need to be protected, you should also ensure that client, supplier, director and employee contracts are secure and watertight with regards to confidential information and IP.
When is a brand not a brand?
Different businesses will need to concentrate on different mixes of intangible assets according to their sector, activities and business model. However, there’s one asset that’s important to all – the brand.
Unfortunately, companies frequently think of protecting their often long-established brand almost as an afterthought. Having a good trademark portfolio to support and protect a brand can add a great deal of value to a company.
7 critical points to understand about trademarks
- Trademarks are assets on which a monetary value can be, and often is, placed.
- Trademarks can include logos, sounds, words, phrases, symbols, designs, colours, gestures, brand names and slogans, among other things.
- They are distinctive features that distinguish the goods or services of one business from those of another.
- A trademark often embodies the goodwill and reputation of a business and sets it apart from competitors.
- Without registration, trademarks may still be protected in certain circumstances, but an unregistered right is often expensive and difficult to enforce if infringed.
- It is important to recognise that, in the UK, a registered trademark gives the owner a positive right to use the mark throughout the UK. This is particularly relevant, as the complete rebranding of a business is often undesirable.
- To register a trademark in the UK, it must be possible to write it down, and show it in words or through pictures. It must be distinctive for the goods and services it is used for, and different to other marks that are already registered or in use.
Branding should be thought about at an early stage – ideally before any commitment to a business name. Once a name is chosen, an IP professional can carry out searches to check if the name (or a similar name) is already registered, and provide advice and options as to overcoming any issues, ranging from a deal with a current owner to a name variation.
Registration of the mark can then be applied for under the appropriate classes of goods or services. If a brand is not protected through having all relevant trademarks registered in the important jurisdictions that it may trade in, the business will probably have little or no control over someone else using and registering the trademark, and this will inevitably prevent expansion.
Trying to regain such rights may mean having to pay out a large amount of money or undertake costly legal proceedings.
So understanding which assets represent value in your business and learning how to protect them is an important management issue for all businesses, irrespective of sector or size.