Intellectual Property: where do I start?
Martin Brassell is the CEO of Inngot, a company on a mission to educate people about the importance of Intellectual Property (IP) and to help businesses identify and value their IP. In today's knowledge economy, disruptive ideas are the things that add value to business - but how can you recognise you have something truly special and capitalise upon this? And what should you be doing - or looking out for? Here Martin gives his tips for starting out with Intellectual Property.
All start-up businesses have 101 priorities to juggle, and getting off on the right foot with your intellectual property (‘IP’) is one of them. When it comes to IP, what do you have to sort out at the very beginning – and what can maybe afford to wait until you’re a bit further down the road?
Clearly, if the business you’re starting up is based on a new invention or is very hi-tech in nature, you’re going to need some advice on patent protection sooner rather than later. For most businesses, though, it’s other types of IP that are likely to matter most: safeguarding your branding, content or design input.
Very few start-ups have enough time, knowledge or resource to do everything. Whatever business you are starting up, here are three things it pays to get right from the beginning.
1. Choose your name carefully.
You don’t necessarily need to register a trademark straight away, but you do need to know that you will have the chance to protect your name and brand in the future, and be confident you can get on with building your business without attracting threatening letters from existing rights holders.
There are three important places to check names when you’re starting up. The first is Companies House (www.companieshouse.gov.uk); one is your web domain registry; the third is the trade marks database at the UK Intellectual Property Office (www.ipo.gov.uk). Searching the IPO register is pretty straightforward, but don’t forget to check product names you’re thinking of using as well as the company name.
2. Learn to keep a secret.
It’s really tempting to tell the world what you’ve got to offer. Generally it’s a good idea to do this as loudly and as often as possible, but not in the case of anything you’ve got that really makes your business ‘tick’.
To preserve the possibility of protecting inventions in future, and reduce the chances of unfair competition, it’s good to get into the habit of thinking 'Who needs to know this?’ Try not to put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to suppliers or customers, and if you get to the point where you need to disclose anything that might give you a competitive edge, get a non-disclosure agreement (or a confidentiality agreement – they’re two names for the same sort of document) in place first.
3. Record everything.
The easiest type of IP to infringe is copyright, so it’s important a) not to copy other people and b) to write down all the details of your startup journey. It doesn’t matter too much whether you use notebooks or computer records, as long as the date of creation can be authenticated.
If there is ever any dispute about what you own, the best defence will be the records you keep of your drafts, prototypes, tests and experiments. And who knows, you might be able to turn them into a best-seller one day!
If you’re not sure what potential IP you’ve got, you can use Inngot’s profiling tool free of charge to find out. Just visit www.inngot.com, click ‘Start’ and enter the special code VSU87829 when requested. Also, once you’ve registered on the website, you can also download free confidentiality agreements and other useful templates which you can tailor to suit your needs.