Event Recap

BFS '18 Talk #6: Make the Most of Your Business's IP

April 16, 2018

In today’s business world, managing your business’s intellectual property (IP) is essential. As companies shift toward digital, their tangible assets - from land and buildings to machinery and inventory - are dwindling, often down to a single laptop.

How can the worth of such companies be quantified? For most, the answer is in the IP, which can constitute 80% or more of their value.

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs miss opportunities to harness the power of IP. They shy away from time-consuming paperwork, confusing laws, and other obstacles they view as an inevitable part of protecting their property.

To help entrepreneurs become more familiar with IP, the Business Funding Show 2018 welcomed Thomas Zvesper, a patent attorney at Marks & Clerk,to offer his indispensable advice on the value of IP how to make the most of your rights. Here are the highlights.

What qualifies as IP in your business?

No matter your business’s sector or size, the answer is probably ‘more than you think’! Have a look at these two very different examples.

But what can you do with all this IP?

Again, probably more than you think. Zvesper identifies several ways to use your IP to strengthen and protect your business:

  • Block competitors and copycats from the market.
  • Create a new income stream by licensing your IP to others.
  • Protect your reputation.
  • Attract investors by showing them the true value of your company and having documentation to support your claim.

That’s not to say, however, that more IP means automatically means more benefits. To save time and money, strategically choose the IP that will help your business most.

‘The value of IP is only as valuable as the money that it allows you to make,’ Zvesper explains. ‘There’s not any point in putting together this immense patent portfolio if you’re not clear on how you’re going to make money from it.’

Knowing about IP rights can also keep you out of trouble.

Pay as much attention to other people’s IP as your own.

‘A patent, a design or a trademark is not a right to do something,’ says Zvesper. ‘It is the right to stop other people from doing something. It’s what we call a negative right.’

With these negative rights, you can protect your property, but competitors can also ‘stop you absolutely cold’ if they feel you have breached their IP. You may then need to fight a lengthy legal battle, pay them off, rebrand, or - in the worst case scenario - terminate sales of your product.

Properly managing your IP makes these problems much easier to deal with because you will have the chance to:

  • research your competition’s IP early on to avoid conflict in the first place.
  • use your IP rights as bargaining chips.
  • sell to your attacker - or partner with them.
  • sell to a buyer who will fight any legal battle on your behalf.

Ignoring IP, on the other hand, will leave you defenceless.

Make sure you own your IP.

Establish as soon as possible who actually owns the IP your company uses every day. It’s easy to assume that it belongs to the business, but there are plenty of reasons why this might not be the case.

Perhaps the inventors never assigned rights into the company or that assignment was never executed properly.

Perhaps the transfer of rights never registered in all the territories your company operates in.

Perhaps a consultant, grantor, or forgotten co-owner still owns some rights.

Or perhaps the company was sold and the IP rights were never sorted out post-sale.

Avoid making assumptions!

Create contracts you can use.

Some SMEs fail to create contracts. Others make so little use of them that they might as well have not created them. Know that a proper contract:

  • is written on paper, not the ‘back of a fag packet’
  • makes sense and is never vague
  • is realistic and enforceable
  • never contains illegal provisions
  • is known to all stakeholders
  • uses templates appropriately
  • is not one-sided
  • is not subject to foreign law
  • is actually read and utilised

A checklist for IP success

To wrap it up, Zvesper offers a checklist of IP dos and don’ts.

Do:

  • make an IP plan and stick to it!
  • refine your IP plan and keep sticking to it! Ask your IP attorney to meet with you - regularly, in person, and with your inventors - to discuss your plan.
  • consider Freedom to Operate and the business risk associated with it.
  • define policies as part of your plan.
  • Create an IP budget if your company value is influenced by IP. Don’t let IP fall by the wayside because it’s not in your budget.
  • Keep excellent records. Particularly in startups, too many important decisions are sealed with nothing but a handshake or a note on a napkin.
  • Have answers ready.

Do Not:

  • disclose your inventions before talking to a patent attorney!
  • neglect trademarks, designs, domain names, and other less well-known forms of IP.
  • underestimate your inventiveness.

Stay tuned for more coverage of our full day of panels and talks to get expert advice on choosing the right investor.

The Business Funding Show began as the first exhibition in the UK and EU focused exclusively on business finance. Today, in addition to the flagship exhibition, BFS runs a series of events throughout the year aiming to educate entrepreneurs on different aspects of business finance and connect them with top funders.

To attend other exciting BFS events, such as funding exhibition, workshops, and networking parties and secure your tickets, visit bizfundingclub.com/events.

Do you have a question? Contact us now!

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