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Developing an IP Strategy – A Guide to the Basics
By Rina Sond, Partner specialising in Company Commercial and Intellectual Property
With the average IP assets of a business being around 80%, it is vital for businesses to know and understand their intellectual property more than ever. The point of having any IP is to help a business protect and exploit what it has developed, be that a product, a process or a service offering. In order to exploit or commercialise what they have developed, it is imperative for businesses to have an IP strategy in place.
The first thing to do is to assess what IP your business owns, otherwise you can’t manage and protect it from damage or loss; and if you don’t manage it, you can’t make money from it! So, you may want to formulate a strategy considering the steps below.
- Identify your IP – do an audit and assess what IP is used in your business. There are free online tools which can help with this. Most importantly, check that you actually own the IP. A common misconception is that the IP in any work that a freelancer or consultant develops for you automatically belongs to you – but it does not! This is only the case if there is a written agreement confirming that the IP created will transfer to your business. Otherwise, the IP remains with the consultant. IP created by employees, on the other hand, will usually belong to the employer.
- Assess your IP – look at what is of value or what could potentially create value in your business; some IP may be worthless or simply not viable, so test the market. Get testers to sign an NDA to keep their comments & results confidential, or alternatively seek to register any registerable IP rights before publicly disclosing. As part of this exercise, assess any potential infringement risks by carrying out appropriate searches. Don’t forget copyright in any documents of value.
- Protect your IP - Register those IP rights where applicable and worth protecting. Registration shows that it’s yours, and helps protect against ownership issues. Also think about future plans and consider extending protection to other territories too. If you can’t register any rights or where it’s not viable, then ensure that you keep it confidential (or as a trade secret); keep records, invoices, correspondence with distributors, etc. These records are good to build a shield against any unpredictable issues arising, as well as being good practice anyway, as they can help with claiming the various tax reliefs available.
- Exploit your IP – once you’ve got protected IP, the key to making money is to exploit it. You can actively use the IP to extract value, be that by building a recognised brand or by patenting a new innovative product. There are a wide range of different methods available, depending on a number of drivers.
- Monitor your IP – do actively monitor your market and your competitors to make sure that you or others are not infringing any IP. Conduct searches on Companies House, through the trade marks and patents registers; carry out domain name and google searches. This can be useful not only as a protective measure, but also in seeking out potential opportunities!
- Enforce your IP - It is only through monitoring your IP that you may uncover infringement of your IP rights. You should ensure that the value of the IP justifies any moves to protecting and enforcing those rights, as you will incur legal costs in taking action. However, having registered rights will put you in a much stronger position in the event of any infringement.
Please note the contents of this blog are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.