You’ve had a great business idea. You’ve drafted out a rough plan of how it’s going to work. You’ve done a ton of research, you’ve even managed to scrape enough money together to buy some basic equipment to run the business. You’ve found loads of info about setting up a company online, and found a free advisors to tell you about company formation and funding. Now, people keep on mentioning intellectual property rights being important to nearly every business out there, but not yours…right? Probably wrong.
Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) are often potentially the most valuable thing that a company owns. And yet many people (a) don’t realised this, (b) can’t identify the IP in their business, (c) may know it’s there but don’t keep a track or record of it, (d) don’t protect it and (e) don’t exploit it. Crazy eh? Think – “Hello sir – you appear to have a pot of gold sitting in your unlocked room here – mind if I take it? Thanks…” Similar thing.
So – what should you as Mr or Mrs Start-Up be doing? There are some very easy ways to avoid the many pitfalls associated with IPR protection. Here are my top 5 tips for today.
1. Read up on the basics of what IPRs are and which could affect your business. A great source of free info on this is the Intellectual Property Office website http://www.ipo.gov.uk
2. Realise early on that you have copyright in all original ideas that you have that you put into a fixed fom, as well as other unregistrable intellectual assets – business methods, trade secrets. Make sure that you record them, maintain an inventory. This can be invaluable. In relation to original ideas in which you have copyright, fix them on paper/dvd – including notes and explanations. You can keep them safe by registering them with a company such as the Copyright Protection Agency. http://www.copyrightprotection.com
3. Confidentiality. One of the easiest ways to protect yourself is to think about confidentiality. Whilst the underlying purpose of IPRs is to balance rewards due to creators with the encouragement of creativity, if you want to ensure that the IP you create is protected, think about when you should be asking others to keep it confidential by using simple confidentiality agreements.
4. If you feel strongly about the name of your product/company, your brand, your logo, think about protecting it as a trademark (TM). Do remember that not every thing is registrable – there are lots of restrictinos and rules governing whether something can be registered as a TM – again lots of free info can be found on the IPO website. A registered TM gives you much stronger rights than an unregistered TM. Ensure you keep documentation of TM applications/registrations and keep a note of renewal dates.
5. If you have other people doing work for you – independent designers, consultants, freelancers – remember that unless you have a contract in place with them that specifically states that they are assigning to you all the IPR in the work they produce for you, and that they are waiving all moral rights they have in that work – THEY will own it. So if you want to own it, get contracts in place with clear assignation wording.
And beyond that, you can contact someone like me, who can advise you as to the finer details of how to recognise, protect and maximise the potential of your IPR.
Hannah is an IT and IP Lawyer working with Morisons LLP. She is also a Business Dev Director working with the Copyright Protection Agency. And also owner of Hannah Alphey Art….