Intellectual property - also known as 'intangible assets' - comprises patents, copyrights, trademarks, design rights and registered designs.
Some intellectual property rights (eg patents, trademarks and registered designs) need a formal process of registration and payment of fees by the owner to the Intellectual Property Office, to provide protection and monopoly rights to their owner.
Copyright and design rights arise automatically upon creation, but do not protect the owner from a third party's independent creation – only from actual copying.
Intellectual property rights differ in terms of duration and procedures, but their effect is to ensure the owner has the exclusive right to use its rights and decide how those rights are used and exploited, which includes preventing any other party from using the same rights. This is extremely important for start-ups seeking to protect their assets, to achieve growth and potential investments.
Intellectual property rights only protect the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves, so appropriate confidentiality agreements must be put in place to ensure initial actions do not jeopardize future intellectual property.
A start-up must have a process for identifying and capturing its intellectual property. To this effect an intellectual property audit carried out periodically is always useful. Once a start-up has identified its intellectual property, it needs to:
- Manage its intellectual property portfolio by deciding which intellectual property to maintain, since intellectual property can be costly to maintain and protect. Remember that even when some intellectual property assets may not be of direct value to the business, they could still be licensed or assigned to third parties, bringing extra revenue and profits.
- Adopt effective policies for the capture and retention of innovative ideas, trade secrets, inventions, know-how and confidential information. Intellectual property is not only patents. Although patents can add significant value to an intellectual property portfolio, it is important to use appropriate agreements, such as confidentiality, consultancy or licensing agreements.
- Monitor and enforce its rights, which may create an opportunity to recover lost licensing revenue through settlement or damages awards. By contrast, a failure to take action to prevent and address intellectual property infringement may result in lost license fees and royalties. Similarly, being aware of the intellectual property assets of your competitors and implementing clearance policies for new products or services, helps to avoid unwanted and costly infringement claims by third parties.
This article is for general purposes and guidance only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. You can read more information about protecting your intellectual property here.
Dr Maria Anassutzi, Anassutzi & Co Limited