INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY – DEVELOPING AN IP TOOL KIT!

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Whether you are an entrepreneur, designer, manufacturer, student or inventor, your intellectual capital or “know how” needs to be protected. The consequences for not protecting and exploiting IPRs will be dire and, sadly, many lose their businesses today because of a lack of understanding about IP rights and what they do and do not protect. So, clearly, the protection of IP rights in order to fully exploit and commercialise IP value must be a key priority for all creators and innovators.

There are many avenues that designers, manufacturers and brand owners can pursue to ensure that they protect their IP. Often it is the low cost and no cost proactive measures which have the most impact like, for example, ensuring standard terms and conditions of sale or supply include an IP statement, having an effective document management system in place, registering designs, copyright, trade marks and patents in the countries where one’s business interests lie, ensuring that there are registrations in key territories where there are identifiable risks from IP theft. ACID has just produced a set of standard terms and conditions of business and these are positioned as an industry standard. Having a precedent, reusable agreement means that you can add various clauses which apply to your own particular business, though it is always advisable to seek legal help on these aspects.

Most successful businesses will be underpinned by intangible assets and intellectual property and in order to identify and maximise these key resources they need to be translated into a monetary value so that they can become a recognisable USP and key driver in attracting investment or in mergers and acquisitions. An IP strategy review will help to focus on these key areas to be addressed. Don’t forget, too, that any registrations are tax deductible!

Sound, healthy legal agreements really do help to underpin commercial relationships. Relying on effective small print can pay dividends should you need to rely on essential terms which will clarify your IP ownership. Care should be taken too at exhibitions – usually the first point of entry for new product. So, before any exhibition, the rule of thumb is to be IP savvy! Ensure you have design registrations and create an audit trail behind your work. Counterfeiters and copyists are canny so always ensure you take a legitimate business card and know the credentials of whom you are dealing with. Also, remember, be very wary about letting anyone photograph your new designs or products – in the age of digital photography, an innovative new product or idea can be half way across the world, copied and on the production line ready for re-distribution before an exhibitor has had time to pack up his or her stand.

Another simple but effective means by which you can deter copyists is to say so! And what better way than a simple IP ownership statement which can be added to marketing literature, to a standard signature on all emails, invoices, price tags, labelling and websites. This can act like a “24 hour IP burglar alarm” and when linked to say, an organisation such as ACID’s website, reinforces your IP strategy.

Laws, especially IP laws differ from territory to territory, so researching IP laws in different territories will give your organisation a competitive edge in IP awareness. By identifying the rights which apply to your organisation underpinned by a basic knowledge of what they are and how strong they are, is a simple first step.

It takes years to build up a reputation in an organisation and the name by which you are known so clearly a brand protection strategy is key. Apart from UK registration, one of the most effective forms of protection is the relatively new Community Trade Mark. So once one has established National, European and key international territories it is worth while considering an ongoing trade mark policy and identifying the countries with whom your national mark will have reciprocal agreements. If you are relying on unregistered rights for your trade mark, you are quite entitled to add ™. A word of warning, though, you must ensure that you have an unchallenged entitlement to use the name you are trading under. However, if you have a registered trade mark you can add ® beside your company name. Using these symbols will communicate to your competitors the value you place in the investment of the company name by which you are known. It also communicates a level of awareness about the intellectual property you own.

Try to ensure that those with whom you work are aware of your IP policy – suppliers, employees, retailers, end users and competition. ACID advises all those who have a declared corporate social responsibility policy on IP to recommend that mediation is their first port of call as a solution to legal disputes.

ACID supports mediation with its “Mediate to Resolve” scheme as a real alternative to litigation.

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