August 6th, 2018How to Protect Your Small to Medium Sized Enterprise’s Intellectual Property

A comprehensive Intellectual Property (IP) strategy to support business growth is often overlooked by small to medium enterprises. However, a strong IP strategy can benefit a business, no matter how small or big it is. A well designed strategy can support growth, protect assets, and help to create a culture of innovation and creativity.

A robust IP strategy should be an integral part of the company’s overall corporate strategy. This is because it will support a businesses aims for ongoing profitability and competitive advantage within their vertical.

For example, if you’re considering expanding overseas, planning to use professional translation services to translate your strategy is a good idea. Doing so early on can prevent confusion and allow you to prepare for the process ahead of time.

This post will discuss the benefits of creating an IP strategy and explain how to build one for small to medium sized enterprises.

Defining Key Terms

A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention –a product or process that provides a new way of doing something, or that offers a new technical solution to a problem.

A patent provides patent owners with protection for their inventions. Protection is granted for a limited period, generally 20 years.  

A trademark is a distinctive sign that identifies certain goods or services produced or provided via interstate commerce by an individual or a company.  The trademark system helps consumers to identify and purchase a product or service based on whether its specific characteristics and quality – as indicated by its unique trademark – meet their needs. A trademark last ten years and can be renewed for ten year periods at a time.  

Copyright grant authors, artists and other creators protection for their literary and artistic creations, generally referred to as “creative works” Works covered by copyright include, but are not limited to: novels, poems, plays, reference works, newspapers, advertisements, computer programs, databases, films, musical compositions, choreography, paintings, drawings, photographs, sculpture, architecture, maps and technical drawings.

A trade secret is a formula, practice, process, design, instrument, pattern, commercial method, or compilation of information not generally known or reasonably ascertainable by others by which a business can obtain an economic advantage over competitors or customers.  Trade secrets are now the subject of federal protection in the United States.

Financial Benefits

IP or ‘mind’ assets are one of many resources businesses create and use to generate profit and gain a competitive advantage. When managed effectively, the protection of these assets can also drive new revenue opportunities. In the USA, the IP licensing industry has grown 2.9% each year since 2013, generating $45 billion in revenue for over 6,000 businesses.

Businesses who have invested energy into registering their IP assets can garner a significant income stream from licensing others to use the copyright or patent. There are a number of ways in which businesses can assure the income through licensing.

For example accepting a percentage of each sale of a product that requires your patent or copyright, including minimum sales clauses, or even agreeing to allow a competitor to use the innovation in a particular region in which the IP license owner does not operate are all options.

Supporting a Culture of Innovation

Intellectual property covers a number of different innovations a company needs to make from the very beginning – website content, logos, or designs for new products to name a few – while not all of these will be licensed with the Intellectual Property Office, making the company’s IP strategy available to all within the business shows each employee how much their contributions are valued.

Along with creating another revenue stream, IP strategies support a culture of innovation and creativity within a business.  By involving all relevant stakeholders in the creation of an IP strategy and distributing the final documents throughout the business, cooperation, innovation and a willingness to exploit new technologies is fostered.

Building an IP Strategy

There are three main areas an IP strategy should cover: protection of intellectual assets such as those described above, the optimization of research and development opportunities, and monetization of IP assets.

Business of all sizes should begin by identifying current ownership rights and IP policies. This can be done by reviewing previous agreements between employees and contractors.

Guidelines for creating intellectual property should then be put in place. The type of IP protection which needs to be sought for each should also be determined in the document. Part of this process should include a search for existing licenses and protections to ensure no infringements upon other’s copyrights or trademarks are being made.

Throughout the process of creating an IP strategy, the company’s goals and issues should kept in mind along with various ways in which IP protection can be used to reach or solve them.

The final document should be distributed throughout the business and regularly reviewed and updated to ensure it continues to support the company’s growth and objectives.

It is helpful to establish a management team. This group can ensure that the IP strategy continues to be effective. By monitoring it both internally in terms of IP creation and licensing as well as externally in terms of revenue collection, they’ll be able to resolve any issues pertaining to violations of licenses held by the business.

Irrespective of the vertical in which a small or medium enterprise operates, it is likely that some form of IP is created. IP should be recognised as the asset it is and exploited where possible to increase revenue for the business.

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