You may have a successful business, a fantastic product or a sought-after service – but how safe is your business idea and when should you start to think about protecting it? Here Trademark Attorney Aaron Wood gives you an overview of Wood’s 5W’s of Intellectual Property – What, Why, When, Who & Where?

A successful business is made up of a number of assets: the skills of its people, the financial backing which allows it to weather the storms and the hardware and plant it owns.  Programmes such as Dragon’s Den have made the public generally aware of Intellectual Property (IP), but research by the UK government regularly shows that businesses are not fully aware, or have important misconceptions about intellectual property.  

Intellectual Property

intellectual property – photo by Shutterstock

In this short piece you will learn a little more via Wood’s 5 W’s of Intellectual Property.

What is IP?  IP lies in the innovative products you produce (which may be protectable as patents), the content you create (which may be protected by copyright), the appearance of your products (which may be protected by designs) and the names, slogans, distinctive packaging and other elements you use to mark your products out from the crowd (which may be protected by trade marks).  IP also lies beyond these better-known areas in confidential information such as client lists and price lists.

Why does it matter? IP is an asset of the business, and so if identified (and protected where needed) it can add value to the business by bringing in extra cash flow (by allowing others to use it under licence or by using it as security for loans) or by allowing you to get a better price should you sell the business.  More importantly, IP gives you an advantage over other businesses.  You should be careful that the fruits of your research and hard work are not taken by competitors, and that you are not infringing the IP of other companies.

When should I think about it?  Most businesses are creating IP all the time, so it is generally worth thinking about which kinds of IP matter most to the business at the outset, and then keeping this in mind throughout the life of the business to make sure all the relevant business information is kept that you might need in order to be able to prove that you own the IP, and that formal protection is sought where necessary.

Who creates IP in the business?  As well as the founders of the business, IP can be created by any of the staff and the business IP is handled by them on a daily basis.  Salespeople may build up client lists, designers may be developing logos and product designs, accounting staff will have access to important financial information.  It is essential that IP is recognised and protected, not least to stop it walking out of the door with ex-employees!

Where do I go for help on IP?  The UK Patent Office (www.ipo.gov.uk) provides a substantial amount of helpful information, and the British Library and major libraries around the UK give help and training on IP issues.  There are also two specialist bodies in the UK – the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (www.itma.org.uk) and the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (www.cipa.org.uk).  These bodies can help direct you to experts in your area to help protect this essential business asset.

Aaron Wood is the Managing Director of Wood Trade Marks and Designs, a niche firm specialising in IP.  He was previously a leading member of the IP team at a global law firm and worked prior to that in commerce at Unilever. For more details about how Aaron can help you safeguard your Intellectual Property email him at [email protected] . You can also follow him on twitter @aaronwood