Intellectual Property (IP) essentials for small businesses
Posted on 25th April 2022 at 16:24
We speak to business owners daily about their professional business service needs and one thing that often gets lost in the mix is their IP protection. Many consider it an issue for larger companies, designers, or inventors however, as experienced IP experts we know it can be one of the most valuable assets of any sized business. We also unfortunately know, how much of a headache it can be in cases of coping or unintentional infringement. In this article we’ll get you IP savvy in less than 5 minutes so you can make informed decisions about how best to protect your business.
1. What intellectual property does my small business have?
Intellectual Property (IP) refers to many different creative outputs your business may have or use commercially. In includes but isn’t limited to imagery, logos, processes, symbols, designs, ideas, writing, names, website layouts etc. Every size and type of business will have some sort of IP which is valuable, how it is and what can be protected needs to be investigated.
2. What IP do I get automatic cover for and what do I need to apply for?
To understand the value of your IP assets, we’ll look at what is covered automatically by UK law and what type of protection you’ll need to apply for:
Automatic protections –
Copyright - This is automatically covered in UK law when the new piece of writing, photography, music, recording etc. is created. This doesn’t mean you won’t have to go to court if someone uses or copies your copyright.
Employee output - The creative output of your employees is also property of the company they work for if the work was created in company time or using company equipment. This should be stipulated in their employment contract however automatic protections in law come into play here. Please note this IP does still need to have protection applied for to stop others, outside the organisation, copying or using it.
Third-party designed logos – Do not assume this is a given, externally designed logos are not automatically your property. But all you have to do is be really clear when you engage a designer that you want it stated in the contract that the IP rights are signed over to you as part of the job.
Business Name Protection - ‘Passing off’ is a common law action that can be used to protect unregistered trade mark rights in the UK. For example, if you believe another business is copying your business’ name and customers may confuse the two businesses, you can legally ask the company to cease and desist. You will be responsible for the legal fees should the case go to court, and it could take some time to resolve. Alternatively, you can register your business name with Start.Biz for £99 (+VAT) per annum. As part of their Business Name Registration package from Start.Biz who will cover up to £10,000 of legal fees and deal with the administration of the case for you if a ‘Passing Off’ incident arises. Find out more here Business Name Registration.
Protections you will need to apply for –
Trade marks (TM) - you can trade mark a name, word, logo, monogram, shape, letters, numerals, signature, or any combination of these.
Digital – this includes domain names and social platform handles. It is good to have your handle as close to the trading name as possible so people can find you easily online and know it’s you. Even if you aren’t planning or building a website just yet or putting content out on all social media platforms it’s wise to buy the domain name and set up the accounts on all major platforms. When you start to grow and want to develop your sales channels and marketing they’ll be ready waiting for you and not taken by someone else. Individuals and companies can buy/reserve domains and social media handles which they may offer to sell to you at a much higher price.
Registered design - A Registered Design protects the appearance, physical shape, configuration and the decoration of products whereas trade mark registration protects the names of your products or brands.
Patents – these are usually applied for by inventors or larger companies in the manufacturing or pharmaceutical industries. If you think your business may need a patent it is advised you seek professional advice from an expert.
3. How much is IP protection going to cost me?
The costs of IP protection can vary dramatically so it’s good to shop around and understand all of your options:
DIY applications –
It is possible to apply directly to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) yourself in the UK. There are helpful guides on YouTube and their website, and if you have the time to work it out, this could be the cheapest way of seeking IP protection. However, it isn’t without its drawbacks. Your application may be challenged, contain mistakes, or be submitted incorrectly with little recourse. All of these will come with extra costs meaning it may not actually be as cost effective as you first thought.
Engage an IP lawyer –
Their expertise and familiarity with the process will offer peace of mind however lawyers charges start from around £200-250 per hour so this is out of budget for many small businesses.
IP experts –
There are companies that specialise in IP protection, that have qualified experts and will charge a lot less than a solicitor. They will also have packages aimed at smaller ventures including Business Name Registration which will help you if your business is a victim of ‘Passing Off’. Start.Biz offer a free, no obligation IP consultation where we advise what IP your business has and how best to protect it, get in touch today to find out more 0121 678 9000 or email email@example.com
Share this post: