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Our Ten Top IP Tips for SMEs

By Cameron Laleye, Trainee Patent Attorney

Any intellectual property you might own is an exceptionally valuable commodity regardless of the size of your business. However, as an SME it is absolutely critical that your IP portfolio is as robust and comprehensive as it can be, with a strategy tailored to help you commercialise and make the most of your ideas; from protecting your inventions with patents to safeguarding your trade secrets, and everything in between.

These ten top tips will help give some direction as to what you need to consider and how we at HLK can best assist you in taking your business to the next level.

1. Recognising your assets

This may seem obvious and unnecessary to say, but to maximise the commercial value of your IP, you need to know what IP you might actually own or seek protection for! However, this is not always obvious, and assets may slip through the net. It is equally important to realise what assets you may have thought you owned but, in actual fact, do not; as well as assets you do own but are not eligible for protection.

2. Recognising your competitor’s assets

When operating in a market, or indeed when looking to enter a market, it is good business practice to know and understand what your competitors are, or might be planning on, doing. It is equally important to know and understand what IP they own. Two of the main reasons for this are: to avoid unwittingly infringing their rights; and to gain an understanding of where you might look to innovate next.

3. Budget for IP

Whilst the value they provide vastly outstrips the cost involved in securing and maintaining your intellectual property, these rights are sadly not free to obtain. Therefore, setting aside a dedicated budget is a worthwhile investment for future gains.

4. Devise a strategy for your IP

As with many things, it is often of great benefit to have a plan. Knowing what you want to do and where you want to go is key to devising a cost-effective and value-boosting IP portfolio. Identifying key national jurisdictions and ascertaining what protection might be required and where forms a major part of this.

5. Enforcing your IP

Owning intellectual property is of little use and/or benefit if no steps are taken to ensure third parties do not and are not freely infringing your rights. It is therefore advisable to arrange for and make use of tools such as watching services to be aware of those who might impermissibly be exploiting your ideas. Once you have this information, it is vital that you make use of it and at the very least notify anyone you discover of the rights you own.

6. Using your IP

IP can be a passive asset that sits as a deterrent for third parties, however, it is much more versatile than this. It can be actively exploited and one way of doing this includes seeking out those who might want to licence or purchase outright your IP. As an SME, this could and does form part of an effective IP strategy and is something one of our many expert professionals would be happy to assist with preparing.

7. Using the IP of others

As mentioned in Tip No. 2, it is important to check what is owned by third parties, but, once you are aware of this, it may be beneficial to enter into some sort of licencing agreement with them. Engaging in amicable dealings with third parties is much preferred to hostile and costly litigation. Once you have this relationship, you may even find that you have technology of value to them that they would like to licence themselves and this can be the beginning of a fruitful synergistic alliance for both parties.

8. Due diligence

It is not the most glamorous of tasks but is nevertheless just as important as the rest of the tips provided in this summary. Checking your registered rights are accurately recorded and renewals are up to date are vital practices when looking to utilise your IP, or that of others- either when enforcing your rights or engaging in transactions.

9. Ensuring security of your IP

Trade secrets are not a registrable form of intellectual property right but are instead protected by preventing the asset in question from becoming public knowledge. Whilst other assets can be protected by registering them, it is equally advisable to practice the same high level of discretion as for trade secrets where possible, especially pre-registration. Ensure you have the relevant contractual agreements in place to maintain confidentiality, for example.

10. Find the professionals for the job

All professional representatives pass rigorous qualifications to ensure they are competent and can practice safely – but at HLK, we go above and beyond. All of our colleagues are experts in their field, with high level academic qualifications and years of legal experience to best advise and guide you through all stages of the IP lifecycle as part of your business journey. We cover all types of IP and provide additional services such as the maintenance of registered rights renewals. If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact one of us and it would be our pleasure to find out how we can grow your business together.

This is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Should you require advice on this or any other topic then please contact or your usual Haseltine Lake Kempner advisor.

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