Let me start by asking you a question. Why are you in business? Or why are you planning to start one? What’s your motivation? Do you hope to make it big, be the next Richard Branson or Anita Roddick? Or are you just intending to be self-employed? Certainly, when I founded my law firm, Azrights 13 years ago all I wanted was to work flexibly while raising my 2 daughters. However, aspirations change over time. I discovered a love of entrepreneurship and my ambitions grew. You may find your aspirations change over time. Bear them in mind as the IP actions you need to take do depend on the direction you’re taking.
IP for small business
I’ve had 20 years’ experience in IP work now, but when I founded Azrights I’d just worked on the IP projects of blue chip companies like Reuters where I’d been an in-house lawyer. Due to the enquiries we were receiving at Azrights I became aware of the problems small businesses encounter with IP. They often had disastrous consequences, and I was appalled at the damage lack of knowledge of IP could do. Ambitious businesses, who instead of reaching their dreams, were unlucky and wasting time, money, and opportunity embroiled in avoidable IP issues. Some actually even lost their businesses.
So, it became my life’s purposes to raise awareness of IP and educate the world in intellectual property. To do so, I wrote blogs and books. My first book was Legally Branded. With the passage of time, as I noticed further points that needed to be expressed more emphatically or differently so they made sense to people, I wrote another book, Intellectual Property Revolution. But then I kept noticing further information that needed to be communicated so I’ve gone on to create the Legally Branded Academy online course.
I am convinced that IP is a business skill that entrepreneurs and creatives need to learn just like finance, or any other subject that’s so intrinsic to their business success. The IP I teach is relevant to a worldwide audience because it is business insight not legal minutiae. By understanding the big picture businesses can address IP issues early on, and avoid mistakes. IP is the nuts and bolts of business. It translates to value, so upskilling yourself to protect your IP is important.
IP is a property right
IP is a property right just as land or a house you own is a property right. While land law regulates rights in physical property, Intellectual Property is the law that covers intangibles. IP is complicated because it doesn’t comprise a single legal right. Each of these property rights have a large body of rules and detail attached to them. They cover patents, trademarks, designs, copyright, confidentiality.
These can be categorised into 2 groups
1.Firstly, the Core 3 IP rights are copyright, trade marks and confidentiality. They are relevant to any and every business.
2.Secondly are IP rights that are more one off in nature for many businesses – that’s designs and patents. You can look into these when necessary unless you’re in an industry where they are core to your activities.
Here I just wanted to give the barest information about the individual IP rights. I’ll discuss them more in future posts. Patents protect the way things work, how they function, so the Dyson vacuum cleaner protects the way Dyson managed to dispense with the bag. Design protection, on the other hand, protects the way the vacuum cleaners look visually as designs protect the appearance, surface decoration, configuration etc of products like wallpapers, or the shape of handbags, and also packaging.
Confidentiality is an important IP right which protects databases, systems and processes, and ideas disclosed in a context of confidentiality. If not kept secret you jeopardise your patenting of an idea.
Trademarks protect your brand name, logo, tagline etc. They are a badge of origin for consumers.
And copyright is a most important IP right because most assets that businesses have are protected by it, such as websites, brochures, music, images, content, video and so on. It was partly as a result of the way popular authors like Charles Dickens had their work ripped off by publishers in other countries such as the USA that a global approach to protection of IP came about through international initiatives such as the Berne convention.
As a result of such initiatives your work is protected in countries that are signatories to conventions such as Berne even though your copyright is not registered in other countries. Provided the requirements of laws in your own country are observed you are protected in other countries that are signatories. So authors, musicians, poets, painters or other creators control how their work is used, by whom, and on what terms.
Balancing role of IP
IP aims to encourage innovation by incentivising the sharing of knowledge and ideas. It rewards innovators with a patent monopoly or other IP rights in return for making the details of their innovations public. On the other hand, IP laws need to guard against granting such strong and extensive rights as to stifle creativity. This balancing role of IP is why an idea that’s already in the public domain may not be patented, or why a generic, descriptive name cannot be monopolised by one person. So, if I call my business IP Lawyer, I won’t be able to stop other IP lawyers also naming their businesses IP Lawyer, as this is a descriptive term that needs to be kept free for other traders.
Naming is a very important way in which a business protects its distinctiveness and revenues. The major portion of the value of a successful business is contained in its brand name (ie trade marks), so it pays to choose names wisely. According to Forbes, the most valuable brand name in the world in 2017 was Apple, worth $170 billion, followed by Google at $101 billion and in third place was Microsoft at $87 billion.
So, your choice of brand name directly impacts how easy or difficult it will be for competitors to provide “me too” offerings that piggy back off your success.
A new definition of “Protection”?
As different actions are required to protect each type of IP “protection” is involved when you’re actually creating intangible assets. It’s the actions you take with your ideas - before you even reach a lawyer - that affect your IP rights. Because of this I used to advise visiting a lawyer early on to protect your IP. However, my ideas have developed as I’ve realised how unworkable that advice is in practice. People are creating new assets all the time, they can’t be expected to visit a lawyer every time they have new ideas to develop.
So now I firmly believe that you need to learn the basics of IP for yourself because it’s the steps you take very early on in your projects which could result in the big, catastrophic mistakes I’ve seen people make. You may have lost the opportunity to protect your intellectual property by the time you see a lawyer. So, IP protection has 2 levels. You take care at first level. Lawyers thereafter can help you to register your rights unless you choose to deal with your own second stage protection too.
It’s all too easy to make mistakes with IP because there are so many myths and misinformation about the subject. Be sure to get your IP information from reliable sources rather than from social media, friends and family. They may just regurgitate the myths that are around, leading to you making the wrong moves and having to learn from your mistakes, which wastes time and money.
The intangible nature of intellectual property presents key differences when compared with traditional property like land or physical goods. With intangibles it’s all too easy to overlook them.
Also, IP has an element of the wild west about it. In the old days people used to grab land but nowadays that doesn’t happen because land has generally been claimed. With IP people are still tending to just lay claim to elements like names, simply because they like a name. Many do it brazenly, possibly unaware of the problems they are potentially shoring up for themselves down the line. So, this is an added reason for IP mistakes. They’re sometimes intentional because society is still in a wild west mentality when it comes to IP rights.
By signing up for Legally Branded Newsletter, You will gain insights every week on intellectual property. Paying attention to IP is the way to discover what steps to take to preserve the value of your assets, to grow your profit margins, create new income streams, protect your market share, and prevent competitors from copying your ideas.