The real value of many businesses doesn’t lie in their physical assets, but in their intangible assets or intellectual property (IP). This can include their logo and branding, product designs, client knowledge, trade secrets and even their ideas.
Being an effective business leader means also protecting your company’s IP from the risk of theft, misuse and exploitation. To help you do just that, we’ve developed this guide to the do’s and don’ts of IP in business – inspired by content from one of our postgraduate business law units, Advanced Intellectual Property Law.
Do: Know where you stand
There are many types of intellectual property that provide owners with different rights. Copyright gives you the power to publish or use information and to stop others from using it. A trademark gives you the right to use something that identifies your business or products, such as a logo or slogan. Meanwhile, a patent lets you take advantage of your own invention. The first step in mastering your business’ IP is to know which apply to you.
Don’t: Leave things to chance
Once you’ve identified your business’ intellectual property, the next step is to formalise it. If you have any invention that gives your business a competitive advantage, register a patent for it. Although trademarks don’t necessarily need to be registered, doing so will give you greater certainty and could also increase the value of them. Also, consider registering any business names and domain names you use to make sure other businesses can’t trade off your reputation.
Do: Get your IP position in writing
It’s common for businesses to have employees, contractors and suppliers sign a non-disclosure agreement or NDA. But it’s just as vital to have them sign an intellectual property assignment agreement or to include an IP assignment clause in contracts.
An intellectual property assignment agreement transfers IP rights from one person or company to another. Use one to formally state that you own any intellectual property that someone creates while working for you, and have the sole right to use it. This is vital when you’re working on a new a product or service or developing client lists.
Don’t: Assume anything
Just because you’ve asked someone to sign a document or you’ve registered a trademark or patent, that doesn’t necessarily put the issue to rest. Unscrupulous or unaware competitors may still attempt to use your intellectual property. Be sure to monitor your rivals, past employees, suppliers and others to make sure your IP stays your own.
Do: Consider the bigger picture
You should always consider your intellectual property in the context of other risks to your business. As your IP is a valuable asset, it may be at risk if you’re ever sued by an employee, contractor or rival. Why not consider creating a separate corporate entity to hold it along with other valuable assets? That way, you may be able to place it off limits and preserve its value.
Do: Equip yourself with proper knowledge
Intellectual property can be a complex and confusing area. Getting it wrong could cost your business dearly. That’s why many senior business managers are equipping themselves with business law degrees to help prepare them for the current and future challenges within this field.
Southern Cross University’s online Master of Business Law includes Advanced Intellectual Property Law as one of its optional units. Learn more about our online course by reaching out to our team of expert Student Enrolment Advisors on 1300 589 882.