Sometimes, intellectual property can seem a daunting subject. However, simple steps can still make all the difference. Here are our top tips to help you use the law to your advantage.
- Know your IP: Do you actually know what intellectual property you own? If not, the chances are that you are not protecting it or making it work for you. Doing an IP audit is vital – as is updating it as time goes by.
- Secure your IP: It isn’t only pirates who find themselves using other people’s IP. There may be a number of reasons why you are legitimately entitled to use IP belonging to other people, such as when you have it licensed to you. How much are you relying on IP that belongs to others, and how secure are your rights? Make sure you ask yourself these questions and sort out any issues.
- Protect your IP: Lots of businesses use IP constantly, without even thinking about it. That works fine until the first whiff of trouble, but by then it may be too late. Once you know what you have, make sure you have protected it in the best way possible.
- Don’t make assumptions: IP law can sometimes be very cruel. Make sure you do not assume that you have legal rights, just because it is common sense or obvious. Lots of people have thought this and got burnt. Don’t let it be you.
- Keep records: Some IP rights – like copyright – arise automatically without registration. That makes it a lot easier in some ways, but a lot harder in others. Think about how you would prove your rights if someone questioned them. Make sure you have records that you can use in evidence later.
- Think about employees and contractors: A lot of issues are about employees or independent contractors. Are they going to create IP? Who owns the IP if they do? Is it in their contracts? If not, do you know what the default legal position is? This is another area to consider carefully.
- Keep things confidential: All businesses have their secrets, but not all manage to keep them. Make sure you have clear boundaries with your suppliers, staff and third parties. Don’t give them confidential information they don’t need, and make sure you tell them what is confidential. Make sure you cover confidential information in your contracts, and enter into non-disclosure agreements if appropriate.
- Think about your brands: Everywhere you look, businesses are spending serious cash on branding themselves and their products. Before you hire a consultant, or even print some business cards, think about the implications. Is the name you have chosen similar to someone else’s? Is there a similar or identical trademark, and will you be infringing? Does someone else have the domain names you want?
- Go global: With the rise of the internet, even the smallest businesses have access to markets across the world. However, the same rules do not apply everywhere. Did you know you can register copyright in the US, for example? If you want to extend your reach, make sure you have a look at how your IP can be protected first.
- Seek advice: IP law is complicated. If you delay getting help, it can just make things worse. If you are unsure about anything, don’t leave it to chance. Seek advice.