11 May Intellectual property: essentials for start ups and SMEs

Are you protecting your ideas?

Intellectual Property (IP) is a legal concept which refers to ‘creations of the mind’ such as musical, literary and artistic works, inventions, words, phrases, symbols and designs. IP law grants owners certain exclusive rights to these intangible assets. Whatever your product or service, or whether a start up or SME, it is highly likely that your business is regularly generating or using IP. For an SME using innovation to secure their growth, intellectual property is a core asset. Managing your IP is about enabling opportunity and mitigating risk.

Use the right combination of IP rights for your design or product

It is important to protect every aspect of your innovation, from the appearance of the product, the way in which the product operates, to any branding associated with it. A synergistic approach to IP will protect your market should competitors get too close, or should any copy-cat products appear.

Patents protect your inventions, whether products or processes. Your invention must be new, inventive and with practical application.

Trade marks protect your brand and product names and symbols. Use ® if registered, TM if not.

Designs protect the visual appearance of your products and their components.

Copyright protects your literary, artistic, or musical material such as brochures, manuals, advert content and radio jingles. Keep good records and keep a dated copy of your work safe.

IP essentials for start ups and SMEs

Intellectual property (IP) is a must if your start up requires funding from a venture capitalist or Business Angel.

Developing a well balanced IP portfolio can give you the competitive edge and increase the market value of your business. Licensing, sale or commercialisation of your products or services, protected with IP rights, can generate income for your SME. If you are using IP that belongs to others, it is important to consider the licensing or purchase opportunities available to you in order to avoid a dispute or litigation.

Timing is a key element and you should build IP action points into your business and project plans, and be prepared to allocate budget for IP.

Start of project

  • Are you free to use your idea or name? Check for existing patents, designs, trade marks and domain names.
  • Check contract terms with third parties (eg, confidentiality and ownership agreements).
  • Secure your own IP rights. File for patents, designs, trade marks and domain names. Patent applications must be filed before public disclosure so consider non-disclosure agreements with developers.

Ongoing and mid-project

  • Feature IP in project reviews.
  • Document development work and contributors (inventors, designers, etc.).
  • Check further for existing third party IP while you can still potentially steer round it: use searches to clear significant design choices.
  • Again, review and secure your own IP rights.
  • Check that any existing IP rights you have do indeed correspond to the product you are developing.

Pre-launch of product

  • Do a quick re-run of clearance searches.
  • Check again that you have already filed for IP rights that correspond to the product you now intend to launch.

Cost effective strategies for protection

Many new and growing companies have tight budgets to generate, protect and commercialise their IP. Getting professional advice is invariably worthwhile, as there are many pitfalls for the uninitiated and for those innovating in areas that challenge traditional IP law, such as wearable and embedded technology, smart textiles and augmented reality.

D Young & Co understands the need for commercially focused, timely and cost effective advice, tailored to your individual business needs. We are able to provide advice on financial support for innovation, including schemes such as the European research and innovation programme Horizon 2020.

About the author

Holly Cowie is an experienced Patent Attorney at D Young & Co. Holly works in the mechanical and electrical fields and can advise start ups and SMEs in the Nordic region.