Posted: Wed 4th Mar 2015
Martin Brassell is an IP expert who will be sharing his wisdom and knowledge in a free webinar to cover IP basics for small business. We ask Martin why small businesses should think about IP and how to cost effectively protect it.
Why should small businesses be bothered about IP?
Intellectual property - IP - is what really makes a business 'tick'. It's a term that covers all the ways you put your ideas into practice. Your IP will ultimately determine what your company is worth, and whether anyone will want to buy it.
Small and young businesses that are not 'IP aware' are highly prone to being imitated or ripped off by companies with deeper pockets. IP law covers how you protect your innovations and stop others stealing them.
Of course, IP is a two-way street: other companies own IP too. You need to understand the boundaries of what you can do with brands, technologies, designs and other people's words and images, if you don't want threatening letters dropping through your door.
What are the forms of IP and which ones should small businesses protect?
The best-known form of IP is a patent, as used by inventors like Thomas Edison. This protects ways of doing things, like technologies. If you're involved in making something new or in a new way, a patent could be very relevant, but if you're not, there are other priorities you should consider.
Brands can be protected by trade marks; distinctive styles can be protected by registered designs; and copyright applies to any words and pictures you create (provided you haven't copied them from anyone else, of course). It also covers software you write.
You may also have other assets that are part of the IP 'family', like trade secrets, specialist know-how, market reputation, first mover advantage"¦ the best thing to do is to compile a list and then critique it.
How can a small business easily and cost-effectively protect their IP?
Depends what it is. There are two basic steps every business can take, at no minimal or no cost: put others on notice of copyright material that belongs to you, and put measures in place to keep your secrets safe.
Other forms of IP protection don't have to be expensive - you can protect a design for five years for Â£60 in the UK, and a trade mark in one class for Â£200 or less. However, because IP is territorial, if you want to go global you'll have to set your budgets accordingly.
Getting a patent all the way to grant won't be cheap, particularly not if you need international protection, but the costs don't all come at once. This gives you time to find out whether sales opportunities really exist before you have to pay to secure them. In the meantime, 'Patent Pending' status can be a really helpful marketing tool and can be obtained quite inexpensively.
Are there any specific IP considerations when going and growing online?
There are lots! But here are three key ones to think about:
Before you spend anything on a website, check the availability of the domains and the brand you want to use (as well as your company name, if you've not already chosen it). You don't want to spend good money developing a site and then get ordered to take it down because you've infringed someone else's rights.
As soon as you go online, you are discoverable by anyone. So never put any information in open view on your website that you might want to patent or need to keep secret.
No-one wants to copy a bad idea, but once you are successful, everyone will want a slice of the action! Prepare for online success by making sure you can protect the way your idea works, looks or feels.
Join the free webinar with Martin Brassell on Thursday 5th March at midday.
The webinar is part of Go and Grow Online, a 12 month campaign to encourage more businesses to get online and support existing online traders to grow - supported by Microsoft, BT Business and Verisign.