Protecting your IP: three* easy steps to get started
In our opinion, ideas are at the heart of technology, which is why we find it so surprising that intellectual property (IP) strategies rarely feature in small and medium-sized businesses until they’re either ready to sell or seek investment.
Whether it stems from the perception that IP law is specialist and therefore vastly expensive or simply that you only need to protect your IP once your business has firmly taken off. In this post, we unpack the different types of intellectual property and steps you can take right now to protect your idea — even if you’re just getting started.
If you're all clued up on the different types of IP feel free to skip to the end of the post to find the steps to get started!
What does intellectual property actually mean?
“Intellectual property (IP) is a category of property that includes intangible creations of the human intellect”, or in simpler terms, anything that has been created from intellectual thought.
So often when we think of value we only relate it to tangible assets, and we act accordingly to protect them. We have insurance policies for our offices and laptops but what about protecting our ideas?
No matter where you are in your business journey, increasing cash flow and runway are always top of the list, which often means IP agreements are added to the “once we’re well established and secure we’ll look into this” list because the process is perceived as complicated, expensive and time-consuming.
But what is the cost of not protecting your hard work and where do you start if you’re brand new to IP?
An Ideas Audit
In order to find out which type of IP protection you need, we suggest starting with an ideas audit in which you critically evaluate your business’ value proposition and the intellectual property (or more simply put, the ideas) that create that value. Whilst you’ll need to block off at least a full day to host the audit it is really useful to do and will come in handy again as it can be part of your employee onboarding and can even be used as part of your pitch for investment later down the line.
Types of IP and why they matter
In the UK some types of intellectual property are automatically protected whilst others you have to apply for. You can find out more about them here.
But if you’re a tech company where do you start?
As with most companies, your value comes from your product and if you’re a technology company that often begins with code. Whilst it’s difficult to patent code you can copyright it, as it is essentially a body of work that is authored. In the UK you don’t have to apply for copyright protection or pay a fee. You can mark your work with the copyright symbol (©).
Copyright. Copyrighting a body of work protects original works of authorship, such as music, books and software which falls under literary works. A copyright gives you the right to make copies of the work or sequels but does not protect against the development of the same idea.
The types of protection you have to apply for include trademarks, registered designs and patents.
Patents. A patent gives its holder the exclusive right to make, use or sell an invention. They are exclusively granted to ideas that haven’t been patented before and protect the idea or process on which a product depends on. Most patents grant protection of your idea for 15 to 20 years.
If you are considering any of the above (even if you don’t have a timeline in mind at all) we suggest using a non-disclosure agreement if you need to chat about your idea with someone else. We’d also suggest incorporating confidentiality clauses into employee and consultant contracts.
Having the above in place not only mitigates risk but adds value to your company too.
If you’ve just scanned right to the end of this post to get the exact information you need, here are the 4 things you need to do right now:
Block time off in your diary to run an idea’s audit (if you’ve already got your value proposition written down you’re halfway there!)
Check if you can immediately copyright any of your work and mark it with the copyright symbol (©)
Make sure your employment contracts include confidentiality clauses
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If you’d ready to start applying for intellectual property protection, or would like any general advice on IP and how you can protect it, contact our founder Vicky at firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to connect with her on Linkedin.