Publications > How IP aware is your company?

Large and successful businesses know the value of protecting their Intellectual Property. Think of the likes of Microsoft, Intel, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Nike and Virgin, to name but a few. The value of their intangible IP assets far exceed their tangible assets, running into the billions of pounds.

The first ever comprehensive survey of IP awareness, conducted by the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO) in September 2006, concluded that, unlike large companies (who were once small companies that became IP aware), SMEs and the mass of Micro-enterprises who form the ‘cradle of IP and future large companies’ are in the main effectively unaware of the IP system. This is partly because you cannot ‘touch and feel’ IP. However, trying to grow a company and not being IP aware is, at the very minimum, like living in a town property without thinking about having locks or any security. You risk losing what you have, what you have built up over the past months or years, and there might be nothing of your possessions that are of any worth to sell at a future date. Science and Innovation Minister Malcolm Wicks has said, in the context of the Government IP awareness campaign: “Imagine working tirelessly to develop a new product or idea then being ripped off because you weren’t correctly protected in terms of intellectual property rights? Our small businesses are the backbone of our nation and we’re keen to make sure they are protected.”

Why is intellectual property so important?

Our economy, like that of major foreign competitors, has shifted from traditional manufacturing towards knowledge economies based on creativity and innovation. High-tech businesses, for example, are underpinned by IP allowing then to make a return on their investment, even in the initial stages, and helping them gain access to finance. Think of pharmaceuticals. Without patent protection these companies would never be able to recoup the approximately £250 million it takes to develop a new drug. But it is not just high-tech businesses that need IP protection. Almost every product or service either uses or creates intellectual property

Why should my company use the IP system?

IP awareness and IP protection may be crucial to your business - in its development and future strategy. It is vital if you have foreign customers and are considering expanding abroad.

What are the main types of IP?

There are four main types of Intellectual Property. These are:

1) Copyright - protecting sound recordings, films, broadcasts and original artistic, musical dramatic and literary works. Copyright covers photographs, sculptures, websites, computer programs, plays, books, videos, databases, maps and logos.

2) Designs - protecting the visual appearance or eye appeal of products.

3) Patents - protecting the technical and functional aspects of products and processes.

4) Trade marks - protecting signs that can distinguish the goods and services of one trader from those of another.

Are there any other types of IP?

Yes, other types of IP also exist, such as trade secrets and confidential information (more properly known as intellectual assets), plant varieties, geographical indications, performer’s rights, moral rights, database rights and more. The type of IP relevant to you will depend on your business. Often, more than one type of IP may apply to the same creation or product (e.g. a mobile phone).

Where can I learn more about IP Protection?

To learn more about these different forms of IP, the UK IPO’s website is a good place to begin: www.ipo.gov.uk.

Can I get IP protection on my own?

Yes, you can. If you do want to go it alone, you need to be aware of many things that could go wrong and compromise your protection. Attorneys are rigorously trained and have a lot of technical and legal knowledge in order to help you secure proper and adequate protection, and to help you navigate through what could be a minefield of procedures with fatal deadlines, and of third party rights and oppositions. You don’t want to get it wrong when so much may be at stake for your business. The investment in professional fees should be seen as a normal part of your business expenditure.

Where can I find an IP professional?

Lists of registered trade mark and patent attorneys may be found on the official web sites of the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (ITMA: www.itma.org.uk) and the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA: www.cipa.org.uk). These are government-recognised professional bodies that are regulated by the Legal Services Act 2007.

This article first appeared in the June 2008 issue of Your Network - The official monthly magazine of The Ultimate Business Network (Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce)