When operating in business, you often focus on business strategies such as perfecting your product or service, servicing and building your customer base and, of course, paying the bills. But taking time to develop an intellectual property (IP) strategy will go a long way to securing your business' long term future.

Business value today is found in intangible assets like client lists, trade secrets, and IP rather than brick and mortar. While most business owners have no trouble spending time to move or renovate new premises, many owners do not spend enough time on a strategy for their intangible assets such as IP.

Here are six tips to help you create your own IP strategy.

  1. Choose a brand that you can protect and enforce.

While it's easy to choose a brand that tells you exactly what the product or service is, these brands are difficult to protect and enforce against others. Choosing a unique and unusual brand will provide you with a strong trade mark that you can easily enforce.

  1. Check to make sure others are not using the same brand.

Launching your brand without checking others' rights is risky. If someone else has protected or is using your brand, then your investment in signage, posters, and promotional material could be lost and/or you could be required to defend a court action against you.

Checking to make sure you can use and register your brand before you launch your product or business is important.

  1. The key to patent or design protection is secrecy.

If you think you have a new product that could be protected by a patent or design, then do not show the product to anyone unless you have a non-disclosure agreement in place. Disclosure of your patent or design to a third party without a non-disclosure agreement will destroy any novelty in the product and prevent you from securing patent or design protection.

  1. Check to make sure your product is not protected.

As with brands, launching your product without checking others' rights is risky. Even if you do not think you will file any patent or design applications, carrying out a freedom to operate (FTO) search to make sure you can sell your product in a particular market or territory is important.

  1. Copyright protection is free.

Copyright is a form of IP protection that is free in New Zealand and Australia, and automatically exists in any copyright work created.

Protection is best achieved if you ensure you include the © symbol, date, and author of the work on the work when it is created.

  1. If you need help, contact an IP lawyer.

An IP lawyer can help you develop an IP strategy that is right for you. A good IP lawyer will ensure you invest only where you need to. Obtaining the right advice that fits with your business strategy at the outset will help safeguard your business for the future.

An edited version of this article appeared in the Poutama eNewsletter - May 2014