Protect Your Intellectual Property
Over the last 12 months we’ve had the pleasure of speaking with a number of incredible startups, a common theme developing with the businesses we speak to is a desire to protect their ideas from being stolen or manipulated.
At this moment in time, Intellectual Property infringement insurance claims are at an all time high – so it’s no wonder more and more startups are starting to worry. This article will give some information about what IP is and how it can be protected.
What is intellectual property (IP)?
Intellectual property is loosely defined as “something you have created that wasn’t there before”. This could be something as simple as a story, a piece of artwork or even a symbol, But it can also be an invention, a new type of material, or a complex sequence of sounds.
You own intellectual property if you; created it, bought the rights to it from the creator or have a brand that could be a trademark (e.g. Sellotape). You can buy and sell Intellectual Property at will and it’s not unusual for some companies to end up with hundreds of different IP registrations to their name. (Some major record labels hold tens of thousands!)
Why you should protect your IP
While the internet has made the access of information easier for everyone, unfortunately companies of all sizes are more at risk of having their unique ideas, products or services infringed upon by others anywhere in the world, making protecting your intellectual property more important than ever.
If you have a great idea for a product or service, there are always going to be people who will want to copy the idea and pass it off as their own. There are many things that you can do to prevent others from using your ideas for their own profit, without your prior consent. No company is too big to protect their ideas, the most prolific example being the Apple/Samsung ‘smartphone war’. On the other side of the coin, it’s very important for smaller businesses to protect any unique products or services that they own – competitors can use access to your idea to expand their market share over yours, resulting in slow growth or lost revenue.
Losing market share so early in a business’s development can be devastating and time consuming if you’re trying to chase up the guilty party without any legal protection. It’s important to remember to check that nobody else is infringing upon your intellectual property, as you cannot rely on others to check for you.
How do I protect my IP assets?
There are many ways to protect your intellectual property, here are some of our top tips:
- Use the free IP Healthcheck tool to account for all your IP, from patents and designs, to domain names and trademarks. You’ll get a personalised list of actions to take, along with an explanation as to why and guidance on how to put each course into action.
- Use Patent and Trademark search early in your product development to identify that your product is original, and whether any similar ideas have already been patented. This can be a complicated area, perhaps consider using the services of a Patent/Trademark solicitor to ensure your idea is truly original and you’re not infringing on other IPs.
- Ensure that all of your employment, consultancy and contractor contracts clearly state your ownership of any IP developed by your firm or associated companies. Consider using NDA’s as appropriate to remove the risk of your idea being leaked.
- Protect your IP early, as it takes time. It can typically take between 2-4 years to have a patent granted in the UK. Whilst it’s possible to have the process fast tracked under certain circumstances (applicable when the invention offers an environmental benefit or has already received a positive examination report from an international patent office), it’s still advisable to start this process as early as possible.
- IP infringement has become infinitely easier with access to the internet and it happens more than you think. Consider using search engines to check that nobody is infringing upon your intellectual property.
- Consider protecting your IP outside of the UK. Consider seeking advice from a patent and/or trademark solicitor on whether you need to protect your IP overseas. Remember that you will need separate international patents, design registration and trademarks in order to protect your IP abroad.
- Be prepared to take legal action where appropriate. It’s always worth weighing up whether taking legal action will be worth the expense, but be prepared to pursue offenders for infringement where necessary. Sometimes a strongly worded letter has the desired results, but you must be prepared to protect your IP.
We’ve arranged a number of intellectual property insurance policies over the last 12 months, which can offer protection for attack and defence of IP infringement. Whilst this insurance isn’t cheap, it adds additional comfort to you and your shareholders where IP has a big part to play in your business.
Hopefully you’ve found this article helpful!