The importance of IP
IP encompasses everything that is considered a “creation of the mind” and which increases the commercial value of a company. A distinction should be made between an intellectual asset (IA), which can be any product, process, or know-how that adds value to the business, and IP rights, which are clearly identifiable and recognisable rights that can be commercialised and monetised by the business. If we take a software product as an example, the actual software code is an IA which the company can sell as a standalone product or as software-as-a-service (SaaS). However, the IP rights associated with the software can be numerous – including copyright, patent and database rights – as the company looks to protect not only the actual code, but also any future software-related inventions.
This IP protection is important in regards to your competitors, as it prevents them from copying your IP, and it allows investors to see the different IP rights that can arise from a single product.
Different types of IP rights
The types of IP rights you pursue for your business will depend on your industry, your commercial endeavours and, ultimately, your budget. An easy first step into securing IP rights is to ‘claim’ all the unregistered IP rights relevant to your business. These IP rights are automatic and therefore free of charge, and they typically don’t require registration. In the UK, these may include unregistered trademarks, design rights, copyright and database rights. The other route to securing IP rights is to apply for registered IP rights that require some upfront investment, but offer higher protection and can make your business more appealing to investors.
The actual IP rights you claim or apply for have to be informed by your products and services. For instance, a software business might look at trademarks and copyright as opposed to patent rights, as their code will evolve and change on an ongoing basis. However, hardware and drug companies can rely more on patents that offer long-term protection to their original creations.
How to identify IP within your business?
The easiest way to identify an IP-worthy asset is to ask yourself “what is adding value to my business?” The sooner you audit your inventory of IAs, the faster you can protect and monetise them in the future. For instance, an audit which looks not only at your products, but also at other intangible assets such as business processes, know-how, established network of contacts, etc. can all form part of your portfolio of IAs.
Once you have catalogued all intellectual creations within the business, look at which ones can be commercialised – that is your cue as to what can constitute part of your IP portfolio. Throughout this process, make sure you keep a trail of how and when each asset was created and who is the owner (the business or the individual) as that will be important when filing an application for your IP rights.