Introduction to Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property (IP) forms an integral part of most businesses but is often overlooked. Ask any small business to have a look at their IP portfolio or to speak to the person responsible for looking after their IP and you often receive a shrug of the shoulders or a raised eyebrow. The reality is that IP is one of the most valuable assets your business will own as you can use it to generate the income needed for growth.

What is intellectual property (IP)?

The term IP relates to any intellectual creation born out of an idea. This includes the way a new product functions and looks to the design of company logo and the wording on promotional materials. Identifying the IP you own, how you can protect it and how it can benefit your business should be at the top of your to-do list whether you’re starting out or simply giving your business a spring clean.

There are four main types of IP – trade marks, patents, copyright and designs.

The first step on the road to success is creating a unique and recognisable company name. This could be your very first trade mark.

A trade mark is a sign (such as words, logos or a combination of both) which can distinguish your goods and services from those of competitors. You can use your trade mark, often referred to as your ‘brand’, as a marketing tool so customers can recognise your products/services.

Next, you might think about your products. Depending on your business, there are a number of IP issues that you might consider.

Perhaps you’re manufacturing and selling a great new invention that you’ve developed - have you thought about applying for a patent? A patent protects the processes that make your invention work, what it’s made of and how it’s made.

The biggest advantage of a patent is that it allows you to stop others from copying, manufacturing, selling and importing your invention without permission. Patent ownership may also reduce the amount of tax you pay using the Patent Box regime, which allows businesses to apply a lower rate of corporation tax to any profits earned from patents.

However, think carefully about your business plan before filing for a patent. While protecting your ideas is recommended, does your product have the long term value and sales potential to make filing for a patent a worthwhile expense?

For service providers, the most important question is often ‘how do I sell my services?’ and IP plays a huge part in this, in the form of copyright.

Copyright is an automatic right that protects creative and artistic works. This covers a wide range of items that you will come across in the day-to-day running of your business, including written literature, websites, advertising materials and photographs.

Beware that the original owner of any copyright material will be the creator, unless you employ them. If you have work created by a contractor you will need to address the copyright position in a written contract.

Perhaps your business is all about the visual appearance of a product – if you rely on coming up with new looks for items, designs could be an important part of your IP portfolio.

Design is all about the way an object looks. A registered design is a legal right which protects the overall visual appearance of a product. Features that can be protected include the lines, contours, colours, shape, texture, materials and the ornamentation which give it a unique appearance.

What should I do next?

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has a wide range of free tools and resources available online to help you on your IP journey, including the IP Healthcheck  to help you identify and protect the intellectual assets of your business. You can also download the free IP app which provides a basic IP overview and gives answers to the most common IP questions.