This article originally appeared on UBT Business Magazine and can be accessed at ubtbusinessmag.co.uk/6-facts-didnt-know-protecting-ip/.
Almost everyone has heard or read that intellectual property (IP) can be of significant value to a business. Whatever form that IP takes, growing a business without an effective IP strategy can lead to major problems later down the line when a business becomes successful enough to be worth copying. If there’s nothing stopping a competitor from doing what you’re doing, it may not be long before your competitive advantage disappears.
There is nothing more disheartening than seeing years of your hard work, time and money going to waste when a competitor rips off your product or service without having to incur any of the risks or costs that you did.
So what can you do about it?
As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the importance of IP and given at least some thought to patents, trade marks, copyright and designs. But did you know the following 6 facts about protecting IP?
- An invention doesn’t need to be “high-tech” to be considered patentable. There is a common misconception that you can only obtain patents for “high-tech” innovations. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As long as an innovation is new and inventive, it could be patentable. For example, the “George Foreman” grill was protected by a patent. Whilst the original patent expired in 2014, it gave the company behind the grill (Tsann Kuen USA, Inc.) a 20 year period of market exclusivity to build up an almost unassailable lead (and netting the former boxing champion, George Foreman, an estimated $200million in promotional earnings).
- An invention doesn’t even need to be a product to be considered patentable. Many people think that software is unpatentable. That is incorrect. If software achieves a technical effect and is new and inventive, it is patentable. The most famous example of a software patent is the patent that covers Google’s “Page Rank” algorithm (i.e. the algorithm which powers Google’s search engine and which transformed the company into a tech unicorn). You or your business might have developed exciting software which does something that no one else has thought of. A patent might be just what’s needed to convince investors that your concept is the “next big thing” or alternatively provide you with an asset that can be sold or licenced for additional revenue.
- Investing in IP is the same as investing in any other business asset. Whilst there are some upfront costs, you end up with an asset which can be sold, licenced out, used as security, or monetised in the same way as any other asset. Whilst the concept of securing a loan against a patent may seem alien to some, a patent that gives its owner a 20 year period of market exclusivity can often be seen to be more valuable than many tangible assets owned by fledgling businesses. If you know you’re on to a brilliant idea but haven’t found the cash to really grow your business, investing in a patent is a great way to create value with limited resources.
- Design protection is an often overlooked, relatively cheap (or indeed free) form of IP protection which can prevent competitors from copying the appearance, shape and configuration of a product. Unregistered design right exists automatically without having to submit any registrations. Registered design right involves submitting drawings of your designs to the UK intellectual property office in a relatively straightforward process. However, as the recent “Trunki” children’s travel suitcase court proceedings have demonstrated, care must be taken when filing registered design applications to ensure that they provide an adequate level of protection; if not, a competitor might be able to circumvent the protection by making only slight alterations to their product.
- Trade marks protect your brand. If you haven’t already registered your business’ name and its key products or services, do it now. It’s quick, cheap, and easy to do, and can save you a lot of hassle when a competitor tries to copy your brand.
- Copyright is a right that exists automatically and which can be monetised in the same way as the other IP rights. You might be sitting on a great source of additional revenue without knowing. Check to see if you have anything that attracts copyright protection and which could be monetised.
Whichever way you’ve chosen to harness IP to grow your business, make sure you are fully informed of all of the options you have.