IP essentials for small businesses

22nd Nov 2021

For small businesses, it can be easy to overlook the potential value of intellectual property. We solve some common misconceptions.

woman opening shop

Ideas –  at the heart of IP.

All businesses start and flourish as the result of ideas. 

Intellectual property (IP) law is intended to protect the end results of those ideas, whether that is what the business is called, what its products look like, how its products work, or some other artistic work that the business has developed.

The IP legal framework is intended to reward the owners of IP rights by giving them the ability to stop others from benefitting unfairly from the innovation, work and commercial risk involved in bringing those ideas to life.

“Our business doesn’t have IP”

Every business has ideas that generate IP, even if those ideas feel small and unimportant at the time of creation.  

Not all ideas create IP that has value to the business (so the IP is not worth protecting) but that is an assessment that needs to be made after recognising that the ideas and IP exist.

“What should our business know about IP?”

In brief:

Trade marks – this is a registered or unregistered right that protects your brands, or trade names. This could be the name of your products or for some businesses just the company name.  In theory a trade mark can be anything that distinguishes your products or services from others, so includes logos, pictures, colours or shapes.  

Patents – this is a registered IP right that protects a new and innovative process or invention that you have created. 

Copyright – this is an unregistered right that can be used to take action against others copying your  artistic creation.  This would cover creations such as illustrations, photos, software, web content, and other forms of recorded content on other media. 

Designs – these can be registered or unregistered rights. They protect the look and appearance of products that you create.  Unregistered design right is narrower in scope, and has a much shorter period of protection, than a registered design. 

“Our business is too busy to bother with IP”

Make time if you can, even if you have to engage an external specialist to conduct an IP audit.  

Your business success comes as a result of investment, whether that is in terms of time or capital, and you should be seeking to protect that investment in any way you can.  

Recognising that you have IP is the start, but the next step is to try to register that IP to give you the best rights available. 

Registered IP rights are a valuable business asset recognised by banks, investors and, perhaps most importantly, by your competitors.  

“Our business already has some unregistered IP rights”

Yes – it might have. In the UK, there are some IP rights that are acquired automatically, for example copyright, unregistered design right and trade mark passing off rights.  

However, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which your business would not be in a stronger legal position if those unregistered rights were registered. 

“Registration is too expensive”

It doesn’t have to be. If you seek specialist advice, your advisor can help you to drill down to the most important IP rights, and to manage costs as efficiently as possible.  

What next?

Contact an IP specialist, such as a Chartered Trade Mark Attorney, and have a chat. They can give you a lot more information and help you understand the best course of action.