As a small business owner there are two things that you should hold dear: the most precious of resources that you have – namely money and time.
But these are the reasons that most owners tend to either ignore or run in the opposite direction when the topic of intellectual property comes up. Surely, they think, this is a topic for the big boys; the multi-nationals with pots of cash to pay out to expensive and specialist lawyers.
Well not necessarily, small businesses can protect far more than just products with patents and most businesses should protect their trademarks, copyrights as well as develop an intellectual property strategy.
Our core business is helping exactly those small to medium size enterprises become more aware of their intellectual property rights.
All businesses should develop an intellectual property strategy and protect their trademarks, copyrights and patents.
To start off, here are a few myths busted about the intellectual property arena along with some reasons that all small businesses should ensure that they are both knowledgeable and protected.
Why IP should be important for you too
- There are many different facets to intellectual property – protect it and profit from it.
- If you are looking to expand your business into the international arena then start thinking strategically about the countries in which you might operate and looking at international rights.
- If you have untapped intellectual property it can be great additional revenue stream, so exploit it but looking at new ways to perhaps license your products.
Small businesses should know the rules for marketing themselves
One of the good reasons to make sure that you are fully up to speed on IP law is also to ensure that you don’t infringe it in anyway. Producing promotional items can be a key, cost-effective way for many small businesses to market their product or service. But did you know that there are laws on all many levels of advertising?
So when you are considering what you can place on your promotional items you won’t, for example, be able to borrow another company’s slogan or create a design that perhaps is a reflection of their brand or corporate identity. It may seem to you like only a minor infringement on a small batch of corporate gifts but in the world of intellectual property laws businesses will fiercely protect their rights against all comers.
It’s not worth the effort or time to investigate or secure the businesses intellectual property rights
You’ve spent months creating your product to be unique and bespoke – you found that gap in the market place and produced something that you are confident can fill it. You’ve found your target market sector and created a marketing and sales plan to roll out your business over the next six months. Then you attend a trade fair and all the talk is about a product that’s sounds very similar to yours – even down to the packaging and branding.
If you have had the forethought to secure some simple but very effective components of intellectual property such as trade dress, trademarks and patents this issue is relatively simple to deal with. A letter of cease and desist would be sent and in theory that would be the end of it. But if you haven’t secured any of those components what could you do? How could you prove that you were the first to create the product and therefore “owned” it?
OK, well I’ll get a trademark sorted and then my brand is safe
Well unfortunately as with so many things in life this isn’t the case. Consider a business that hasn’t been based online and has been trading via a retail site. The business owner has secured a trademark for their product, for example a cake shop that then decides to expand their business and sell online. Even though they have secured a trademark for the business name and logo someone else can still buy up the URL – web address with that wording. The lesson here is to think and plan for the future – even if you are starting out small make sure that you secured all elements for when your business is far bigger.
A patent means only my company can produce something
This is not entirely true – what a patent does mean is that you have the right to stop another organization from producing whatever your patent covers.
So having a strong patent in place can be a great source of business revenue but you will need to be able to demonstrate your commitment to that patent and the business behind it. There have recently been an increasing number of cases of patent trolls – organizations that spot potential new ideas with no real intention of actually putting into practice, the aim of their business is to simply buy up patents to then sell onto other businesses.
The issues for small businesses in the world of international property rights are ever increasing. In our hyper-connected modern world with ever increasing competition due to the proliferation of the internet and with a growing global business community it should be imperative that all small businesses understand the potential impact of intellectual property on their strategy.