On 18 February, the UKIPO released a set of “business tools” designed to inform businesses and those who advise them about intellectual property matters. They’re not designed to allow users to completely manage their IP without professional advice, but they should help to educate users about the relevant issues to consider when forming an IP strategy, and ensure that they have a good grasp of the basics when they talk to an IP professional.

While the tools are mainly aimed at IP decision makers and advisors, there is a wealth of information here that will be useful for any employee in a role which deals with IP. Reading through the guides will help inventors and designers to appreciate the wider business context of the IP rights which apply to their work, and also help them to recognise when they have developed something that could be protected.

The tools consist of five parts:

  • Two “IP Basics” leaflets, one giving a broad overview of intellectual property knowledge for business owners, the other dealing specifically with patents;
  • “IP Equip”, an interactive e-learning tool which covers the major aspects of IP, giving basic advice on patents, trademarks, designs, and copyright
  • The “IP Equip app”, which provides all of the information in IP Equip, plus some extra sections for startups and fast growing businesses;
  • “IP Healthcheck”, which runs a business owner through a series of questions about their current IP practice, and then gives advice tailored to the answers;
  • “IP Masterclass”, a training program for IP advisors which can be completed face-to-face or online (though all the currently announced courses are fully subscribed).

The IP Basics leaflets are intended for businesses who want to improve their IP knowledge. The material doesn’t assume any prior knowledge of IP rights, but it still covers patents, designs, copyright, and trade marks in enough depth to allow businesses to make informed strategy decisions. There are also sections on trade secrets, how IP should be considered during business planning, IP valuation, licensing, and franchising. Each section is preceded by a case study, ranging from household names such as Aardman Animations, to startup companies.

Users should be aware that while the designs section mentions the European rights, it gives no details on the differences between UK and European Community designs, and the patent and trademark sections of the general leaflet do not mention the European equivalents as alternative routes to protection in the UK.

The patent specific IP Basics leaflet (entitled “Do I Need a Patent”) provides a more detailed (and more complex) review of the benefits of a patent, the application process, and how it can be enforced, by expanding on the points made in the more general IP Basics leaflet.

IP Equip presents each section as a video case study (using the same companies as the IP Basics leaflets), talking over their approach to IP, with a focus on the IP right for that particular section. This is followed by a series of true or false questions, providing feedback and more detail as soon as you select an answer. Each course is split into several sections, with some sections being shared over multiple courses, and each section presenting a mini-case study alongside the answers. Once you have completed the course, you gain access to a library of useful links and guides.

The app, which is available for both Apple and Android devices, contains new sections for startups and growing businesses, as well as the information from the IP Equip and IP Basics leaflets.

IP Healthcheck includes a section for each of the major IP rights, plus overseas trade marks, franchising, licensing, and confidential information. The questions encourage business owners to consider their IP strategy, and once you complete each questionnaire, you are presented with tailored advice based on your answers. If the answers given indicate a lack of IP knowledge, the advice is generally to read up on it (with a link to more information), and consult a professional.

At present, little information is available on the IP Masterclass.

Throughout the tools, the UKIPO has been careful to advise talking to an IP professional where appropriate. While this means that the advice is sparse on some complex issues (such as software patenting), this ensure there is no misleading information.

The business tools are located at http://www.ipo.gov.uk/ip4b/ip4b-uk/ip4b-tools.htm, part of the overall IP for business hub at http://www.ipo.gov.uk/ip4b.htm