Written by Antony Davies, Business Growth Specialist for the Sheffield City Region Growth Hub.
It was almost 20 years ago that I first heard the term “intellectual property”, or IP as it is often referred to. I’d just started a new role in a technology and innovation consultancy, and had no idea what was meant by the term. It didn’t take me long to find out, and I very quickly developed an interest in IP, which is just as well, because ever since then it’s featured in much of my working life. During that time I’ve worked with businesses, universities, research organisations and government departments, on a wide range of projects which have required some basic understanding of what IP is, and more importantly, what value it can have.
Without doubt, the world of IP and it’s ownership – usually referred to as Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) – can be complex, time consuming and in many cases expensive. But it doesn’t have to be. Yes, if you’re looking to patent an invention it can take years to be granted and cost thousands in patent attorney, translation and registration fees, not to mention the cost of defending your patent should someone infringe it. But for the majority of businesses, it’s much simpler IP that they should concern themselves with, whether that’s formal IP such as trade marks, designs and copyright, or informal such as trade secrets, customer databases and know how. I’m sure we’ve all heard that Coca-Cola claims its formula is the “world’s most guarded secret.” The recipe, the company says, is now kept in a purpose-built vault within the company’s headquarters in Atlanta. Had the company patented the formula back in 1886 when it was invented, the formula would now be free to be copied by anyone. Instead, Coca Cola remains a leader in the world’s soft drink industry based on its trade secret formula, over 130 years later.
Nearly all businesses will have some IP, whether that’s formal or informal, the trick is to understand what it is, and how to maximise its value. Trade marks for example, are common to many businesses through a distinctive logo or image and can be registered on-line from as little as £170 in the UK. All the value of a brand – its philosophy, its values, its know-how, its staff, its products, its reputation, its intangible assets – is encapsulated in one symbol: its trade mark. Trade marks capture the essence of brands and the energy, investment and know-how that goes into them. A registered trade mark is a way of representing the investment you make in your brand and can be audited and shown on your balance sheet as part of your company’s assets.
So, how do you go about assessing what IP you have in your business? There are IP professionals who will work with you to undertake an IP audit of your business, and create a strategy for maximising its value to you. However, before you embark on a route which will incur professional fees, you can undertake some research and investigation yourself using a range of free resources. The Intellectual Property Office has some fantastic guides, case studies and videos which are easy to understand and provide a good framework on which to build (I’ve been on several of their excellent courses). They also have an on-line IP health check which you can complete to find out: if you have IP to protect; whether you own it and, if you don’t, who does; how to protect it, and whether you should; and how you can exploit it commercially. The Business and Intellectual Property Centre based in Sheffield’s Central Library is another great source of free information, ranging from workshops and clinics to patent databases. You may not have a trade secret like Coca Cola, but I’ll bet there’s some IP of value within your business…….you’ve just got to search it out!
If you think your business could benefit from some advice about Intellectual Property then give the Growth Hub Gateway team a call on 03330 00 00 39.