With Intellectual Property (IP) contributing upwards of 70% of the value of your business, can you afford not to invest in your IP protection strategy? Here are our top 5 tips for start-ups thinking about how to handle their IP.
It is never too early to start
Your IP will underpin your business operations so it makes sense to work it into your commercial plans from day one. Simple, and cost-effective, steps you can take include:
i) performing a trademark search to ensure that your chosen brand is free to use
ii) registering a UK trademark to protect your brand
iii) implementing a register of IP creations
iv) getting into the habit of signing NDAs for new relationships
v) implementing IP review processes to support decision making
Choose your IP legal partner wisely
Not all IP professionals are equal. In the UK, the IP legal profession is split between IP solicitors, IP barristers, patent attorneys and trademark attorneys, with each branch of the profession having different skill sets. The cost for IP services can also vary wildly between different firms. It is important that your IP legal partner understands your business inside and out so that he/she can provide proactive advice. For that reason, you should select a professional that you are personally comfortable with working with for the long term.
Look at the bigger picture
When taking steps to protect your IP, look at what your IP needs to do for you in the future, not just today. It is relatively cost-effective to file trademark, patent and design applications in the UK but it can be expensive in other countries. Cost alone should not be a reason to refrain from protecting your IP in international markets. If you do not take action when you have the chance, it could be too late in the future.
Actively manage your IP portfolio
Obtaining registration of IP rights is not the end of the story. Once registered, IP rights have to be renewed periodically. They should also be monitored to identify potential infringements and conflicting IP registrations. For example, once a UK trademark is registered, it is still possible for other applicants to attempt to register a similar trademark. Some trademark examining authorities will not refuse such applications and will instead leave it up to the applicant to file an opposition. This is only possible if you police your rights.
Be wary of infringing the IP of others
It is all well and good taking steps to protect your own IP but that does not mean that you will not infringe someone else’s IP. For example, if you have a trademark for LEMON in the UK, you can still infringe someone else’s trademark for LEMON in the US for example. Similarly with patents, if you have a patent for a smartphone that has a foldable screen, you could still infringe a patent for the foldable screen itself. It is important to understand the IP landscape within which you are operating so that you can identify and mitigate any risks.