How to protect your Intellectual Property as a startup or scale up

How to protect your Intellectual Property as a startup or scale up image

It's so easy to overlook your intellectual property when you're a startup. Even companies who've been in business for a while but are scaling up can easily forget just how important it is to protect yourself and your business. So, how do you even begin to go about protecting it and what's involved?

Your intellectual property is one of your most valuable assets. Not only does it give your company its true value, but it also helps create brand recognition and sets you apart from your competitors. Without it, you can't differentiate yourself from the rest. So that's why business owners are realising just how valuable it is and taking steps to protect it.

So it's no surprise that legal claims made over the last 12 months by small to medium enterprises have risen significantly by 68%. If you're new to business and have no clue how to even register your intellectual property, read on to find out.

Determine what your intellectual property is

First, you'll want to separate the wheat from the chaff. Analyse and review the product or services you're offering. This could range from your brand kit (logo's and taglines) to physical products or unique services. Once you do this, it makes it much easier to see what's valuable in your business and how you can develop it further.

Submit your application to register a trademark or patent

After analysing your intellectual property and finding out what's most valuable and represents you as a brand you can then start to think about getting a trademark or patent to protect your business. If you don't want any other company using your brand name, logo or even numbers that are specific to your brand you can get a trademark through the Intellectual Property Office, using the UK government website.

You'll have to choose which class you want your trademark under. Once submitted, the public has a set amount of time to contest your application, and if no one comes forward, the trademark is all yours. Once you have the trademark, you can update all your branding with the TM logo, so other people know that it's protected. This means you can take legal action against any person or business who uses your brand without prior consent from you.

Patents are a little different. This helps protect inventions that don't exist or have never been thought of before. The process is a little more complicated than a trademark, and you'll want to be crystal clear on what you're trying to protect.

Check if you need a copyright

Copyright is a little different to a trademark and patent. You can only protect the original idea, content or imagery meaning anyone can take inspiration and expand the idea. Copyright covers anything produced by an individual or company as a whole. For example, content for websites, images or photographs and any training materials produced. It can also be used to protect code in tech industries. You can register your copyright through the UK government copyright website.

Reassess your position

Securing a trademark, patent or copyright isn't a one-time thing. As your business grows and changes, you'll want to reassess your intellectual property. Anytime you develop a new product, create a new service or alter your branding or taglines. It's here where businesses get lazy and complacent, thinking they're covered, but in reality, they aren't. You need to continually review your position, so it makes it harder for competitors to take all your hard work and reap the benefits for themselves.

Still need some guidance? The UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) offers free training and an online IP health check to help small businesses get protected.