How to protect your IP
There are different ways you can protect your intellectual property. These are known as IP strategies.
An IP strategy keeps you focused on your IP, what you own, what you use, how it is protected and whether it is being exploited to your benefit.
Integrate IP strategy with your business plan and get advice
Whatever strategy you adopt to protect and exploit your IP, it should be integrated into your business plan. Explore all the options available and seek professional advice.
Combining registered and unregistered rights
You can combine registered and unregistered rights to optimise IP protection for your business. These may involve using trade secrets and confidentiality agreements together with registered rights, such as trade marks and designs.
Not every piece of IP you own will warrant the cost and time required to formally register it. You may determine it is better to get your product into the market as soon as possible instead of waiting for full protection from a patent, for example. However, other IP you own might be critical to your business success and require the benefits provided by registered rights.
It is your IP, your business strategy and ultimately your decision.
Importance of secrecy
For patents and designs, one of the key criteria is that the invention or design must be new. This means that it cannot have been disclosed to the public.
For example, if you included your new design in a catalogue then filed a design application, it would not pass the 'new' test. Similarly if you gave a presentation at a conference explaining your invention, it would also fail the 'new' test in any subsequent patent application.
If you are interested in obtaining a patent or design, you need to safeguard and maintain secrecy until you have filed your application. You may determine that keeping the full details of your invention secret is of greater benefit than applying for a patent and having to disclose the invention's details. Protection in this manner is known as a trade secret.
A good example is Coca-Cola. The creators decided against applying for a patent as they would have to declare the formula for the drink, so they went down the trade secret path.
Secrecy is the key. The protection is really only valuable whilst the secret holds. Confidentiality agreements are recommended for those who have knowledge of the secret.
Steps to develop an IP strategy
The steps in developing an IP strategy include:
- considering ways you can use the IP system in your business strategy and integrate IP into your business plan.
- searching the patent, trade mark and design databases, as well as other literature and the internet, to ensure your ideas are new and to avoid infringing the rights of others. You can also search for new business opportunities and monitor what your competition is doing.
- weighing the risks and the benefits of registered and unregistered rights - for example, you might find maintaining secrecy and being first to market is a good strategy for you, rather than patenting.
- conducting an IP audit to be sure you actually own the IP you think you do, particularly if it has been produced by contractors.
- developing an infringement strategy and consider IP insurance.
- educating your staff as to their obligations and, where necessary, have them sign confidentiality agreements.
- make effective trade marks the core of your brand and image building strategy.
IP can be a complex area and there is a range of professionals who can provide advice on different IP issues.
Last Updated: 05/12/2012