Think HBR

Do you know how valuable intellectual property is for your business?

Jimmy Gill
Intellectual property (IP) is an extremely valuable asset and one that is at the core of almost every business. Yet it is often overlooked by business owners. Most are surprised that protecting and managing their IP can often be the difference between the success or failure of a business.
To help business owners understand what IP is and the consequences of not paying enough attention to it, outlined below are three common mistakes we see businesses make when it comes to dealing with the IP in their business.
1. Not knowing what IP is and what it can do for your business
The owners and managers of most start-ups and even established businesses do not understand what IP is. There is confusion about how IP comes into existence, how ownership is obtained and what IP you can protect at law. Simple oversights and a failure to take steps at the start of a venture can result in costly and protracted legal problems when things go wrong at a later date.
A good starting point is to develop a working knowledge about IP. IP rights are legally enforceable rights that help protect, among other things, commercially valuable inventions, designs, ideas and brands. Each right protects different aspects of your products, services as well as the background business machinery that creates them.
Without such knowledge, you cannot recognise and protect IP to make the most of business opportunities and the advantages it offers you.
2. Not having an IP strategy
Not factoring IP into your business plan is a fundamental IP mistake. Too many businesses believe that unless they are faced with an important IP problem, for example, the theft of client lists and other commercially valuable information by ex-employees or contractors for the benefit of a competitor, there is no need to turn their minds to the identification, protection or management of their IP. They fail to realise that looking after IP is a proactive, not a reactive, process.
An IP audit is a useful way to identify valuable IP in your business and to decide whether it should be protected, particularly when it relates to those aspects of your business that help differentiate you from your competitors.
3. Believing that your registered business or company name gives you exclusive rights
Many business owners and managers believe that if they register their business or company name with the Australian
Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC), they can stop others from using that name. This is not the case.
A business or company name registration does not:
• automatically give you the right to use that name exclusively;
• enable you to stop others from registering a similar business or company name; or
• protect you from legal action if your business or company name infringes another person’s registered trade mark.
That is, registering a business or company name does not give you any proprietary rights in it. Only a trade mark can give you that kind of protection.
A trade mark, such as a name or logo, is used to distinguish a trader’s goods and services from those of another. A registered trade mark gives you the exclusive right to use it in connection with the goods and services specified in the registration. You can also license or sell such rights to maximise the value of your trade mark. Developing a distinctive trade mark and registering it should be an integral part of your marketing and business development strategy. Without trade mark registration, it can be expensive and time consuming to take action under common law.
If you start a business or project with a weak approach to IP it can prove disastrous down the track and potentially difficult to rectify. Seeking the advice of a qualified IP professional early on can save you a lot of time and money later on. Such advice can assist you to avoid making the above mistakes, maximise the value of your IP and enhance the management of risks.
Jimmy Gill Jimmy Gill
Jimmy Gill heads the Intellectual Property and Technology team at McCabes. He has extensive experience advising businesses on the domestic and international aspects of contentious and non-contentious intellectual property, technology, Internet, privacy/data protection and the Australian Consumer Law matters.