Intellectual property is central to every business. It doesn’t matter what product your business makes, or what service it provides, every enterprise is regularly generating and applying a considerable amount of intellectual property. However the majority of business owners are not taking steps to protect, manage and enforce their IP rights. Some are even using intellectual property that belongs to others, without permission to do so.
More often than not we are all too busy getting a new business off the ground to spend too much time worrying about how to protect it. It’s only downstream, when things start to go wrong, that we seek advice on what we perhaps should have done back at the beginning. Business owners tend not to consider the importance of IP from the outset of launching their new venture. It forms just another hurdle, getting in the way of them getting their new product or service out there. They invest their resources into marketing their new venture, and overlook protecting that venture before they do so. Yet the backbone of marketing is a brand, and that brand should be protected!
Intellectual property rights are not just for shed inventors and rocket scientists that file patent applications to protect their latest contraption. Leading global brands rely on their IP rights to protect their brand identity and to stop copycats and counterfeiters. Writers and artists rely on copyright to protect their literary or aesthetic creations. Product designers lean on registered designs to protect their iconic take on an everyday item. Intellectual property is key to the success of any business. After all, if an idea is good enough, it will be copied. IP rights help stop the copycats.
So to stop you from leaving it too late, but to also prevent you from having to read reams of intellectual property jargon, here are our three essential steps to take today to protect your new venture.
1.) Mark your brand with the capital letters TM.
You can do this today, and do not have to have sought registration of your brand name as a trade mark. It demonstrates that you are trading under this name, and whilst it doesn’t have any legal significance in the UK, it might just be the deterrent you need to a potential counterfeiter! And remember – don’t just check a name is available on Companies House and in domain name listings, check the Trade Marks Registry too.
2.) Mark all media with ‘© Your Company Name 2011’.
Copyright applies to any medium such as leaflets, websites, business plans and recordings. People cannot therefore reproduce copyright protected work in another medium without your permission. Copyright does not protect the idea behind the work. The work must be fixed, such as in writing, for copyright to provide automatic protection. It is an automatic right, so you do not need to apply for it. Simply mark any literature, visuals, presentations or recordings that you generate with the copyright logo, followed by your name or your company name, and the year of creation.
3.) Don’t disclose your ideas without confidentiality in place.
You might be itching to tell people about your ideas, but you’ll effectively be giving it away unless they have signed to say that they will keep it to themselves. Get into the habit of requesting that people sign a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement before you disclose anything. Keep a log of all signed agreements and all meetings that you have regarding the idea, as this data trail can prove invaluable downstream should you need to find the evidence.
Every business needs an IP strategy from the outset. It is not a subject that should be brushed under the carpet. You can protect your brand name, product name, tag line and logo with trade marks. You can protect a new product with patents, registered designs or both. You can protect any media you generate, such as advertising campaigns, websites, business plans through the laws of copyright. Ensuring your business is IP savvy today will help to protect your rights downstream.
About the Author: Charlie Ashworth founded The Patent Factory™ to help people to protect their ideas. Charlie has helped over 3,000 people with their ideas over the past 10 years, and is an Associate of CIPA, the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys. She co-authored the book ‘Patents, Registered Designs, Trade Marks and Copyright’ for the popular Dummies series, and has also successfully licensed her own ideas. If you need help protecting your business and ultimately your ideas, you can contact Charlie at The Patent Factory on firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 0208 408 0659 or follow her on twitter ‘patentfactory’.