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Why startups need to take Intellectual Property seriously - right from the start!

Author: LawBite

Published: 08 Sep 2021

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At LawBite, we see many cases where a company has been late to protect their Intellectual Property or amazingly, not address it at all!

Upwards of 70% of startup value can reside in its Intellectual Property, much of it in places that a new venture doesn’t realise they can protect from the outset.

When starting a new business, lots of new things are being done all at once. We get this. It can be both an exciting time, but also one that also stretches limited resources.

There are basic steps a business should take, ensuring it is best placed to protect any Intellectual Property assets. As they can commonly grow in value over time, it is sensible to spend some time working on this important aspect of business sooner rather than later.

What are the main types of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)?

IPR can be present in a great number of places, some obvious, some not so.

These might include Unregistered Rights such as; expertise (your know-how such as a new process that is more efficient than the competition), trade secrets (that secret sauce you don’t want anyone to copy!), designs and copyright (writings, music, film and images). 

There are also Registered Rights which include the likes of patents (which protect inventions) and trademarks (protecting brand identity). You can even register rights around a database, but the hurdle can be higher to secure those rights.

All of the above is an exclusive right, providing its owner with the tools needed to prevent misuse of its assets by others, such as; copying, misrepresenting or impersonating.

Expert legal advice can be a good place to start to identify IPR and determine how to protect it. LawBite offers a free 15-minute consultation and a 15% discount on subsequent legal orders from ICAEW members.

Read on for more detail on how you can get IPR squared away.

Why is IPR important to a start-up?

Trying to backtrack and secure rights at a later stage can be extremely difficult. First to register commonly wins! There are certainly organisations out there that profit from using other people’s Intellectual Property - sometimes legally, sometimes not.

Furthermore, making sure that all the hard work a business undertakes is protected will create the right ethos across the business. It engages the workforce on a collective drive to be innovative and create a distinct identity. Undoubtedly over time, people will also leave a company, no business wants them walking off to use any IP in another firm.

If a business seeks to attract funding to scale its operations, one of the first questions asked by a potential investor will be details around what is protected. Intellectual Property can also be commercialised, e.g. licensing to other companies.

A well-defined Intellectual Property strategy and portfolio will generally add multi-fold to the investors’ perceived value of a business. 

Does our business own the Intellectual Property Rights?

Surely a business commissioning someone to create content, build some innovation, or design a brand identity, will own all Intellectual Rights therein. Unfortunately, probably not.

The creator of Intellectual Property is generally deemed to be the owner. 

However, a business can ensure these rights are protected and owned:

  1. If created during the course of being an employee or director. Contracts of employment / appointment need to have specific clauses, stating that the rights for work product are retained by the business
  2. If provided by a 3rd party organisation, e.g. agency or contractor. Service contracts must assign any associated Intellectual Property to your business

How long do intellectual property rights last?

Some intellectual property rights do not last forever. For example, patents can remain in force for up to 20 years, design registrations for up to 25 years and copyright for up to 70 years after the author’s death (depending on the type of work). 

Trademarks are initially registered for a period of 10 years and can be renewed for successive periods of a further 10 years.

Trade secrets can remain effective indefinitely if the information remains confidential. Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken are famous for keeping their recipes under lock and key.

OK - IPR has to be taken seriously. What steps need to be taken?

Determine where Intellectual Property Rights could lie:

  • Brand - every business has one. Make sure you register the company or product name, as trademarks for your company. If someone has already done this in the same class, i.e. a common use category, it could be that you are infringing. If you believe that someone is copying you, seek legal advice to get them to stop.
  • Copyright - pages written on a website, blogs, catalogues, etc. No need to register, but sensible to mark with © symbol to signify it is unique to the business
  • Patents - one of the most valuable assets to protect. Beware, if you make public anything about the innovation (blogs, presentations, press releases, etc) your ability to secure a patent diminishes. Until you have applied for a patent - keep quiet!

LawBite has also produced a handy E-Book on Intellectual Property, walking through the process of identifying and securing IP. It also has a legal fitness check, so you can determine if a business is fully protected or needs to apply some more attention.

Isn’t engaging a lawyer expensive? Not with LawBite

As part of our Intellectual Property legal services, our expert, friendly lawyers offer fixed price advice (commonly 50% the cost of comparable lawyers) and can help with all aspects of IPR, including the following major topics;

  • Working out what IP you own, when/how the IP was created and by whom
  • Registering and protecting that IP, so other people can’t use or steal it
  • Help with trade mark registrations and patent applications
  • Advising as to whether a new brand is viable, and the name is cleared/free to use
  • Making sure you are not at risk of infringing anyone else’s IP
  • Helping to maximise the value of confidential information and trade secrets
  • Commercialise IP, including via licensing and assignment
  • Negotiating instances of domain name disputes and cybersquatting
  • Advising on IP in the context of corporate transactions

IP matters are often time-sensitive, and our lawyers are able to respond quickly and cost-effectively. LawBite provides quick, affordable and easy-to-understand Intellectual Property legal advice. Of course, we deal with other aspects of commercial and corporate law that can affect your business.

We offer a free 15-minute consultation and a 15% discount on subsequent legal orders from ICAEW members.