Start-ups are innovative businesses that are gradually joining the market and are beginning to expand their operations from one consumer target to another. The consumer demand tends to expand on the basis of the innovative product or service provided by the business to its customers. It also depends on how they provide it to them within a reasonable timeline coupled with guaranteed consistency. As the business expands, so will their name that brings value in the market by being affiliated with the business name. It is the long road from becoming an up and coming business on the street to a respected brand known by the whole industry.
Even the smallest of start-ups have Intellectual Property (IP) worth protecting. From your business name to the innovative design of your product, you will have assets that set you apart from other businesses in the market. The importance of these IP assets will only grow as your business matures, so it is important to get things right from the start.
What is Intellectual Property (IP)?
Intellectual Property refers to tangible expressions of concepts and ideas, inventions, original names, and items that you have developed in relation to your business. There are several different types of IP and we have categorized these assets for you to let you see them in a different light, so make sure you consider each one when developing your IP strategy.
This is the most overarching and simple form of Intellectual Property protection which bestows upon the owner of a work a number of rights and legal benefits that can prevent the unauthorized usage or exploitation of their works. It is important to point out that the legal owner of the work is not always its creator; such as in cases where the copyright has been sold to a second party.
Copyright protects the expression of original literary or artistic work, such as novels, songs, and newsprint. In case of disputes, originality will ultimately be decided by the courts.
A trademark is a distinctive sign which is used to identify services/goods provided by a person or company. More specifically the kinds of things that can become registered trademarks include words, phrases, numbers, logos, designs, 3D shapes (such as brand-specific packaging). The idea is that a person or company can express the quality, history, individuality of their work under a legally registered mark which sets their work apart from competitors and prevents others from misusing their success.
Registered Designs protect the overall visual appearance of a product or a part of a product. For its registration to be valid, a design must be new and have individual character. As with Copyright, the presence or absence of individual character will be judged by the courts in the case of infringement disputes.
Traditionally original designs for products (from fabric designs, kettles, shower trays to agricultural machinery) can be protected as registered designs (which are also monopoly rights).
Patents are considered the gold standard of IP protection and can be sought as a way of ring fencing a process or product that introduces a new/innovative way of doing something. It is one of the most effective ways of encouraging constant innovation and improvement of products, processes, and services by ensuring that innovators are given credit for the work that they do.
Patents are usually valid for around 20 years, during which the patent owner has full control over who can and cannot use their patented invention, product, or process commercially. Patent owners are also able to sell licenses that permit controlled usage of their patented invention or can sell the patent to another person/organization, forfeiting all rights to future ownership and profits.
Important Intellectual Property (IP) Considerations
There are some crucial points that need to be considered when starting a business. For your ease, we have listed the key IP considerations and the steps you should follow when setting out:
Before you invest time and money building up your business under a particular name, check that this name isn’t already in use. Search for trademarks that are in use, both registered and unregistered, and remember to check names as well as logos. This will help avoid unnecessary conflict with any pre-existing rights.
Availability of Domain Name
Before you decide on your trademark, you may want to check if a suitable domain name is available. You will want one that relates to your chosen trademark and hasn’t already been taken up. You may want to check for and register variants of your chosen domain name.
Brand and Logo Registration
This will help secure your rights and protect your assets from misuse. Remember that trademarks are territorial, so you will need to register them in territories that are relevant to your business.
Identification of Other IP Assets
As well as trademarks, you may have other types of intellectual property worth protecting. For example, design assets that you can register or innovative processes and equipment which you can patent. You should consider carrying out an intellectual property audit to help you identify the IP that you have and its value to your business.
Make sure not to disclose information about any new ideas or inventions before you’ve applied for protection. This is especially important in case of patents, as disclosure can make your application invalid. You may consider different ways of securing confidential information – for example, non-disclosure agreements.
Avoiding Rights Infringement
If you wish to use IP rights that you don’t own, make sure that you seek necessary permissions in advance. You can license the rights or buy them outright. Take great care not to infringe other people’s rights, since this can lead to reputational damage, legal action as well as potential fines and penalties.
Riz and Mona Consultancy
It is advisable to never underestimate the importance of getting your Intellectual Property rights. In some cases, business valuations have been dramatically reduced if your IP strategy is not in place. Start-ups give investors (or buyers) more confidence when you have your IP protection. The most important thing for start-ups is to be aware of the potential for creating IP that has commercial value, to recognize it and act on it when the situation arises.
Book an appointment with our consultants to know more about how they can help you devise a comprehensive strategy and ensure that your business decisions don’t threaten your ability to protect a very valuable asset.