Five common IP pitfalls for SMEs

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Intellectual property is valuable to businesses both big and small but, for many SMEs, their first experience with intellectual property could be when a problem arises, if they have not sought the advice and protection they need.

1. Failing to plan

There’s a lot of misunderstanding around this topic. The different forms of intellectual property protection are often confused (see an overview of trade marks, copyrights, designs, company, and patents here), and it’s often thought of as too complicated and too expensive.

These myths should be dispelled—protecting intellectual property is crucial for every company and failing to do so can have consequences. On the other hand, according to a report from the European Patent Office and European Union Intellectual Property Office, SMEs that have filed at least one intellectual property right are 21% more likely to experience a growth period afterwards.

You can easily implement a cost-effective strategy with the help of a professional. Proactively assessing the intellectual property you currently hold, and your potential future intellectual property will help to develop this strategy.

2. Not protecting your trademarks

An entrepreneur registers their company name at Companies House and registers a domain name for their website. A few months later, they discover a competitor has registered the same name as a registered trade mark. It’s a common story, and there’s unlikely to be a fairytale ending.

Registering your brand, logos, and business names as trade marks with the Intellectual Property Office is an important step in protecting your brand and the goodwill in it. The trade mark register can also be used to avoid stepping on toes—you can review the register and identify business or product names that may be identical or too similar to the one you are thinking of using.

3. Not considering who owns what

Ownership arguments commonly arise where a contractor has been commissioned to design or develop something for you – this might be a website, logo, or product.  If you’re commissioning the work, you might expect to retain the intellectual property rights in the work. In the absence of a contract with the contractor with appropriate IP clauses, this will not be the case.  A well-drafted contract can make all the difference, successfully transferring any intellectual property rights to the commissioning party.

4. Failing to consider confidentiality

Confidential information may be commercially valuable and give you a competitive advantage – it is important to have measures in place to ensure confidential information is protected and disclosed on a limited need-to-know basis.

If you have invented something which is patentable, you must not disclose your invention to the public before filing a patent application. While demonstrating your invention may seem like a great idea, these actions could halt your patent protection bid.

Of course, you can talk to third parties in confidence about your invention. The third party will need to sign a confidentiality agreement. It’s best to take advice before you do and have a lawyer draft the confidentiality agreement to ensure it applies to your situation and sufficiently protects you.

5. Not doing your research

What are your competitors doing? What inventions are already out there? Do you need a licence for a key component of your invention? These are essential questions that must be answered but, unfortunately, are often forgotten.

The good news

It is always a good time to think about intellectual property. Engaging a professional as early as possible will help you gain a clearer picture of your IP portfolio and any risks you face.

If you think you might have intellectual property you need to protect or you’re interested in finding out more about intellectual property and what it means for you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.