Intellectual Property 101: How to Protect Your Business and Brand

As a small business owner, you’ve probably heard a thing or two about intellectual property -- your ideas, inventions and designs – and the need to protect it. Maybe you’ve been told that you could increase your company’s value by obtaining patents, or you’ve started to establish a brand and wondered how to prevent others from cashing in on your work.

Intellectual property protection is often the elephant in the room – we know that it plays a key role in business strategy, but we may believe that we can’t afford it, or that the process is too complicated. Here are a few key things to know about intellectual property, its value and how to protect it, to help you tame that elephant.

1. You already have IP

No matter what your business is, you have intellectual property (IP). Think of the information you and your business have created. Inventions are often cited, but anything you’ve documented that you wouldn’t want others to see could be IP. For example, customer demographics, client lists, and messaging tactics may be considered intellectual property. Your go-to-market strategy, roll-out roadmap, and financial situation are also your IP. Even a tried-and-failed product strategy or marketing plan, if leaked, might save a competitor some trouble, and should be treated as important IP.

2. You can improve your IP security through industry best practices

Identify your IP through an internal IP audit and mark it as company confidential. If it’s not a hurdle for running the business, restrict access to confidential information to only those who need it or store it separately so that no one comes across it accidentally. If possible, track access to those documents, and for transparency, let everyone know that you’re tracking that access.

Ensure that your team and partners understand the need to keep the information confidential.  Most employment agreements now draw attention to confidentiality and IP rights.

With external partners, make signing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) a standard part of your workflow and avoid disclosing information unnecessarily.

3. Your IP is valuable

Your IP is the insider knowledge that runs your business; it’s vital to your day-to-day operations.  But even beyond that, registering your IP can provide tangible benefits.

Patents: Government-granted exclusive rights to inventions, that can deter competition, provide your business with licensing revenue, provide value as a corporate asset, show the public your leadership in the field, and so much more. 

Registered trademarks: Key words or designs used in association with your business, goods or services, that can prevent competitors from taking the mindshare you’ve built in your market.

4. You can protect your IP for less than you think

It’s easy to search for the average cost of obtaining a patent, but this number can be wildly misleading. Patent, trademark and other filings are components of an overall IP strategy. What’s appropriate for your business, in your sector at this moment, may be very different from what’s right for another venture. Tools like provisional patent applications or deferred examination can reduce up-front costs, giving you the opportunity to build your business without giving up IP rights. An IP advisor, agent or lawyer can guide you through the crafting of a right-sized intellectual property process and balance the benefits of IP registration with the realities of your business.

You can take some easy steps while planning an overall intellectual process strategy that doesn’t need to break the bank and will help you tame the IP elephant and push your business to the next level.

The statements in this article should not be taken as legal advice. Please consult with an IP advisor, agent or lawyer to plan an IP strategy appropriate for your business.

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By Innovation Guelph

December 15, 2021

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