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IP is in demand now - so why don't you own any?

IP is in demand now - so why don't you own any?
Erica Wolfe-Murray
Erica Wolfe-Murray
Director
Lola Media Ltd
 

Posted: Tue 9th Mar 2021

I was speaking to an audience of 300 entrepreneurs at a Google Labs event pre-pandemic. All those young bright faces looking at me waiting to reveal the 'secrets' of IP. I started with a question: "Who here owns any IP?__"  In that packed room only three to four people confidently put up their hands.

Then I dropped my quiet bombshell. Without exception, everyone in the audience owned IP. And if you are a business owner reading this - you own IP too. So what exactly is IP and how can you use it to help your business grow?

Intellectual property largely refers to the intangible assets within your business, and is covered by a set of international rules protected by law. Some IP is automatic, other IP requires registration. Let's take a look at the different kinds to see how it can help your business growth.

Copyright

This is the simplest form of IP.

  • It is an automatic right. If you create something original using your own skill, you own it - provided of course you have not copied it

  • It is a property right - if you own the copyright, you can licence it and sell it just as you would any other piece of property

  • You can't copyright an idea - only the expression of that idea, whether as a book, a design or film, an image, a pitch presentation, a computer programme, a methodology or instruction manual

  • Any copyright you own is, in general, protected for 70 years after your death

Most companies don't audit what copyright they own or produce. What a waste! It's a really interesting - and valuable - exercise. Much of the copyright will only be of value internally, but some can be turned into new products or services. Biophilic interior designer Oliver Heath owned the copyright of a large amount of research, writing and presentations in his specialist area. He has just turned this into three online courses for other interior designers through his online design school.

Some companies earn revenue from licensing their copyright. A photographer will licence an image for a certain use. Or you can develop a methodology to train other practitioners - under your licence. A licence is basically a set of permissions allowing the licencee to use your copyright under a set of agreed conditions, such as in which geographical area, over what time, to what audience. You, the licensor, can earn revenue in a variety of ways through a licence fee, a share of revenue, a royalty payment.

During the pandemic we have seen countless examples of businesses using their copyright to pivot into new areas - reframing their existing copyright in fresh ways to find different audiences, charging for their services in additional ways. This is why doing a copyright audit can be so useful - are you missing out on potential business or revenue models?

Trademark

Unlike copyright, trademarks are not an automatic right. They must be registered through the government's intellectual property office based in Newport.

A trademark can be words, an illustrated mark, or a combination of both. And the purpose of the trademark is to help customers differentiate one company's product or service from another - and to stop other companies 'passing off' your goods as theirs, ensuring the goodwill and reputation you have built up stays with you and is not commercialised by someone else.

You can trademark both your company name and the products it offers.

We're all more familiar with trademarks than other forms of IP. We come across them every day - the icons on your smartphone are all individual trademarks, as are all the brands we have in our store cupboards. Trademarks can be both 2D and 3D.

  • A trademark registration generally lasts for 10 years and can be extended indefinitely

  • There are 45 internationally registered trademark classes. When you register you have to decide which you want your trademark to be applied to. Classes 1-34 relate to goods and 35-45 to services. You can choose as many as you want when you first register

  • There are various restrictions on what you can and cannot register, such as internationally recognised symbols like flags or hallmarks, common names, or if someone else has already registered a trademark similar to the one you want to register for the goods/services you want to provide

Brighton-based creative studio The Ideas House has trademarked its unique strategy-development methodology - The Wow Sessions. It will be building a unique offer for this part of its business, so wanted to ensure the name was protected.

British heritage brand Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop was established over 130 years ago. It only registered its trademark relatively recently to protect its provenance for the future.

Registering a trademark is only worth doing if there is a sound commercial reason underpinning your decision. It is not expensive and can be relatively easy to do via the government website. However, if you have a more complex or international registration, I recommend you consult a trademark attorney.

Design rights

Another type of IP that can be registered - design rights protect the 2D and 3D look and feel of a product.

If you have launched a product, you have unregistered design right protecting your design for 10 years after it is first sold. However, if you register the design right, it will be protected for up 25 years provided you renew every five years.

Obviously, any registered design needs to be original with its own characteristics. And the designs have to be submitted to the Intellectual Property Office. You also need to keep the original dated drawings. It can be useful to join ACID (Anti Copying in Design), a lobbying organisation that allows members to store their designs in their design library.

Design right protects the shape, colours, decoration, materials and a design's configuration.

Iconic furniture and lighting designs are protected by design rights. But so too can packaging elements. For example, Mars has many design rights registered for its Mars Bar, including the typography. Both Dairy Milk and jeweller Tiffany have registered colours as part of their design rights.

Most companies I work with don't need to register design rights - but if how something looks, feels and is configured is important to your business - do look into this to ensure no one can profit from your design.

Patent

Patents seem to be one of the most frequently talked about areas of IP, but one most companies will never need!

A patent protects the concept behind an idea - be that a process, a formula, a computer programme or system.  The really key points underpinning a patent include:

  • It has to be new - and never have been disclosed to the public before

  • It must involve an inventive step

  • It must be capable of being made/used in some kind of industry

To register a patent is a lengthy and expensive process, but if successful can add real value to your company through exploitation and licensing.  You will need to approach a patent attorney to help you work your way through the system.

So, don't underestimate the value of IP to your business. There are lots of inventive ways you can use it to build and exploit what you already have in your business. It's both commercially valuable - and can also be fun coming up with new ways to repurpose what you already own. Whether you are freelance, a micro business or a bigger commercial enterprise - you may be pleasantly surprised just how much you do own. Start an audit today!

Erica is trusted Enterprise Nation adviser and innovation consultant who helps small businesses use what they have in their 'store cupboard' to develop cost-effective new products and services. Discover the services she offers today.

 
Erica Wolfe-Murray
Erica Wolfe-Murray
Director
Lola Media Ltd
 
I am an experienced innovation consultant working largely with creative, cultural and tech sector companies to help them grow using the unique assets they already own. Using what you have in your business 'store cupboard' means you can innovate, develop new products and services cost effectively and sometimes for free. My simple methodology helps you unpack these assets to find growth and develop new revenues for your business making it more resilient in the long term. And having worked as a creative head and financial director, I approach a business from both perspectives. Clients have ranged from big corporates like Historic Royal Palaces, Harvey Nichols and National Geographic, to small owner managed companies supplying Not on the High Street, members of the Design Business Association and the Soho House Group. Often these smaller ventures can find, develop and launch new products more quickly than larger companies to advantage of trends and new opportunities. I am also the author of Simple Tips, Smart Ideas: Build a Bigger Better Business which is available from all major bookstores and has 100% 5* reviews on Amazon. Featuring all my methodology to help you grow your business, it is in full colour with over 50 case studies and 50+ different ways to earn money. You can access a pdf download (better than Kindle as it keeps the diagrams with the right text) from my website - lola-media.co.uk with a 40% discount using the code Simple40. I'm here to help. I'm volunteering free advice calls of up to an hour as part of the Recovery Advice for Business scheme, over the next 6 months. Please get in touch to see how I can help your business. 
 

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