Intellectual property, an introduction for small businesses

Are you a small business owner who is struggling with IP issues or do you run a startup and you’re finding it tricky to get to grips with how you should protect your IP assets? Well, according to recent research, you’re not alone. A survey conducted by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) led the organisation to call for more support for startups, small businesses and one-man bands.

As we deal with businesses of all sizes, we thought this would be a good chance to offer a few snippets of advice to small businesses who might be struggling. The information in this post is really only intended as an introduction, should you have any specific questions or issues that you’d like advice about – please do get in touch. No business is too small to think about protecting their IP.

Problems identified in the survey

The FSB found that intellectual property was very important for its members. Around 33 per cent of those surveyed said they relied on IP for between 75 and 100 per cent of their turnover, so without protection in place these businesses could be at real risk. It’s no surprise therefore that 32 per cent had spent time and money attempting to secure their IP with one in five spending up to £5,000 on the process. What is perhaps unexpected is that one in three who had their IP stolen and had taken no action in response. Copying of a product was reportedly the most common type of IP theft though problems with trademarks was also common.

However, it’s not just breaches of IP that small businesses are struggling with. Securing your IP rights can support the growth of your business in a number of ways and this is something that many small firms are failing to take advantage of fully. Only five per cent reported using IP rights in an application for finance and just 13 per cent said they had secured overseas IP rights in anticipation of expansion with 21 per cent indicating they wanted to secure these rights in the future.

What should your small businesses prioritise?

When you’re concentrating on developing a service or product it can be easy to delay addressing IP issues. The FSB survey showed only 25 per cent of businesses put protection in place before encountering a problem, indicating that some business owners are waiting until problems arise before thinking about protecting their IP assets.

Every business will have different priorities when it comes to protection and it can be difficult to know which are likely to have the most impact on your business long term. You may need to look at trademarks, patents and/or design registration. But whether you intend to make your own product or to sell on the rights to your technological innovation, investing time and money early can help support your business.

There are costs associated with this and at a time when you want to invest in staff and developing your brand, asking an expert’s opinion could help you get maximum benefit for your spend. In spring, the government launched an IP finance toolkit to help businesses make the most of their IP, we recommend taking a look at it as a starting point. If you’re in the very early stages of launching your product to market, we can also help with confidentiality agreements that will ensure potential partners or employees don’t disclose important information or trade secrets.

The key thing with IP – no matter how small your business is right now – is to consider supporting and protecting the growth of your business, which may include ambitions to expand overseas. If you already have IP rights secured they can help your launch in new markets. Of course, before putting your own IP protections in place it is crucial to check you are not infringing on those of others – and if you need help we can carry these out on your behalf or give advice on where to start.

What is the biggest IP issue your business has encountered? Do you think small businesses get enough support when it comes to protecting IP? Share your thoughts with us below or get in touch for personalised advice from our experts.