If you’re an entrepreneur planning to launch a new business or product, Keystone’s Robert Pocknell shares some top tips for protecting and asserting your intellectual property without incurring lots of costs.
Rights of protection can be lost when you make a public disclosure on sites such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo for example - so protecting your ideas, inventions and intellectual property as soon as possible is vital. In any event, following these steps before the launch of your business, site and/or product could be key to future success.
1. Protect your name
Make sure no one else is already using your name! To avoid this, always do a trademark search for your trading and product name. You can do this by accessing https://www.tmdn.org/tmview/welcome. This website is free and easy to use.
Always assert your trademark rights in your business name or product by using the ™ symbol whenever you use your trading name, logo or catchphrase. This is free and puts people on notice that you assert rights to your name or logo. Don't use the ® symbol unless until you have a registered trademark.
Assert your rights to your name and/or logo by using some wording on your website and Kickstarter page; for example, "[my name] and the [my name] logo are trademarks and trade names of [name of business] and may not be used or reproduced without consent of the owner." Again, this is free and puts people on notice that you assert all rights to your name or logo.
Use the © symbol with the year of creation whenever you create written materials, or write software. This is also free to do. Keep a copy of these materials so you can show you asserted your rights in copyright if you need to do so in the future.
2. Make sure you own the rights
If anyone else has helped you with your product or project or with your name or logo, whether as paid help or otherwise, make sure that you have something in writing from them confirming that you own all the intellectual property rights in the work they did for you.
3. Think about applying for a patent
If you can't afford to get a patent attorney to draft the patent for you at this stage, you can file your own patent application as a "provisional" patent application at the UK Intellectual Property Office. This should be as detailed a description as possible of the innovation/invention/process explaining what it is, how it works and what sets it apart from what is on the market already. Do this as soon as possible and definitely before you go live on Kickstarter or tell anyone about it. You will have 12 months to file claims - so hopefully at that stage, you will have a good idea of whether you want to incur the costs of filing claims.
If you don't file any claims within 12 months, then the application will be considered abandoned, but won't be published or seen publicly by anyone. It doesn't cost anything to file the initial document, so if you don't file claims, it won't have cost you a penny.
4. Keep schtum!
Keep your idea and invention confidential - use a Non-Disclosure Agreement if you do decide that you want to discuss it with anyone.
5. Based in Britain?
If you are a UK company, think about applying for an R&D Tax credit for any costs you have incurred.
Have a look at the website of the Manufacturing Advisory service to see if you qualify for support – https://www.mymas.org/. MAS provides manufacturing business support for companies, of all sizes, based in England. Up to 50% match funding, from £300 to £3000, is available for SMEs.
Also have a look at the Growth Accelerator website https://www.growthaccelerator.com to see if you are eligible for help. Growth Accelerator is aimed at helping England’s brightest businesses achieve their ambition and potential. They offer bespoke advice, to high-flying businesses with the aim of increasing the number of SMEs that achieve rapid and sustainable growth. The costs are subsidised, and range from £600 for micro-businesses to £3000 for medium-sized businesses.
Finally got your new venture off the ground? The next step is to review your IP strategy again and see if you can afford to take some additional steps to protect your intellectual property. This might include applying to register your trademark, registering your designs, or filing the patent claims from the "provisional" application you filed before you went live.
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.