Intellectual property (IP) rights protect intangible assets such as ideas, inventions, brands, and information. Securing your IP rights can provide several advantages including deterring competitors from copying your ideas or products, turning your knowledge or ideas into a tangible asset, and enhancing the market value of your business. However, many businesses fail to tap into their intellectual capital, leaving it to go to waste. Having an IP strategy will help mitigate this and enhance your ability to identify, leverage, and monetise your IP assets.
We’ve put together a handy list of our top tips on adopting a consistent IP strategy.
Define your Company’s Goals
Protecting your IP can be a costly endeavour and it is crucial that you define your company’s goals so that you may make more informed decisions regarding what IP you want to protect. This may include defining a budget for IP, and perhaps further splitting this IP budget into the different aspects of IP including patents, trade marks, and copyright. Additionally, since IP rights are territorial, it would be beneficial to define the territories of interest to your company. Further things to consider include goals, tolerance to risks, partnerships, and financial strength.
Identify Gaps in Your IP Protection
Once you have laid out your company’s goals, it may be beneficial for your company to carry out an IP audit in order to identify gaps in your existing IP protection. It is recommended that your IP audit is carried out with your IP attorney. The IP audit should provide a detailed review on the various areas of IP, including: making sure your products are adequately covered, that you are future-proofing your IP, and that your IP is up to date. Ideally, an IP audit should be carried out as soon as possible so as to identify these gaps earlier rather than later. It may also be beneficial to periodically carry out IP audits so that you are aware any gaps that appear.
If you have an innovative business with several creative individuals, incorporating an invention harvesting protocol to your IP strategy will help you identify potentially patentable ideas generated by your inventors. Setting up an invention harvesting protocol doesn’t have to be complex, and may be as simple as providing an invention record form for your inventors to fill in whenever they come up with a new idea.
There are additional steps that you may take in order to maximise the harvesting of your company’s inventions. For example, you may set up an inventor bonus program with the function of rewarding inventors who submit an invention disclosure. Doing so may encourage inventors to engage in the patent process. A tiered bonus system may also be beneficial, with lower tier targets, such as submitting an invention disclosure, being rewarded with a lower reward than higher tier targets, such as the grant of a patent.
Hopefully by this stage you will have some keen inventors who have provided a plethora of protectable inventions to pursue patent protection for. However, it may be the case that your IP budget does not cover all of these inventions and some may have to be prioritised over others. A great way to determine the importance of the inventions is to utilise a patent scoring system in line with your company’s goals. Factors to consider include: whether the invention and protection of the invention align with the company’s business strategy; market risk; technology risk; and other IP specifics. A more comprehensive overview of an example patent scoring system can be found in this article by my colleague, Elaine Taylor-Shaw – https://www.murgitroyd.com/blog/patent-scoring-system-for-portfolio-review/.
Inventions that you decide not to seek patent protection for may instead be kept secret, often referred to as a “Trade secret”. You may choose to keep these inventions confidential which advantageously means that it won’t be disclosed to the public, giving your company a competitive edge. However, this strategy is risky as the success lies in your (and your partners, workforce, suppliers etc.) ability to keep your invention secret. It also relies on your competition not being able to easily discover the uniqueness of your invention by studying your products closely or reverse engineering.