Checklists to help small business identify possible IP rights

In recent years both the US and the UK, authorities have published troubling data about lack of intellectual property awareness among small business owners. The UK Office of Science and Innovation stated that although corporate institutions were extremely protective and aware of their intellectual property rights, small businesses were lacking in that respect.

The Intellectual Property Office has even launched a brand new scheme – an IP Health Checks pilot scheme to help small enterprises to identify and protect their intellectual property. With the recent changes in the UK making intellectual property lawsuits more accessible to small businesses it is crucial to raise awareness. Below you will find the summary of the recent changes brought into UK IP law and a list of useful tips that can potentially help you identify and protect your IP in a more efficient way. Another useful tool can be found here.

The IP Law Changes

The Government has introduced the Patents County Court (Financial Limit) Order 2011. The Order will make it more affordable and easier for small and medium enterprises to bring lawsuits for intellectual property infringements. The Order implements a new limit of £500,000.00 for damages in the Patents County Court; this means that cases will be likely to be resolved without the need for costly litigation in the High Court. In the past, cases below the £500,000.00 threshold were not automatically allocated to the Patents County Court and exposed businesses to virtually total costs – this put off many small businesses from even considering bringing a claim.

Any IP to protect?

Many small business owners fail to recognise the uniqueness of their products or industrial processes. Intellectual property refers to some different categories of original creations. The protected classes of inventions include both tangible and abstract works and in commercial context mainly include industrial patents, creations and trademarks.

Checklist

How well-developed is your brand? Do your customers recognise your logo or name and buy your products because they clearly know that they come from your company?
Is your company involved in any of the following:
Publishing and printing including books, newspapers, brochures or packaging.
Information technology including software or online solutions.
Music industry including composing or recording music.
Choreography.
Sculpture.
Entertainment including movies and other audiovisual materials.
Architecture.
Industrial innovations and design.
Is any of your goods or services that you manufacture or plan to provide unique to your company?
Have the above been developed by somebody employed or contracted by your business; or have you licensed them from a third-party on either exclusive or non-exclusive basis?
Companies that provide unique and original products or solutions are likely in the possession of the valuable intellectual property. Even if you have not developed the IP in-house, but contracted your work out to somebody else the IP is still likely to belong to you so long as you have paid for it. If you have obtained a licence to use the IP you are entitled to benefit from it and likely to be responsible for co-operating fully with the owner to ensure that nobody infringes the IP.

Have you done your research by conducting trademark/copyright searches with the Intellectual Property Office? – If not you can search the register for free at the UK IPO’s website.
Do you use contractual arrangements to protect your IP from being disclosed? – You should always ensure that not only your employees are under non-disclosure obligations but foremost anybody who is externally contracted to test the IP.
Do your employees keep logs of any inventions made and are they properly trained and instructed on how to identify original creations?
Have you every registered any intellectual property rights with the UK Intellectual Property Office?
Did you know that you can quickly register your trademark in the European Community at the same time as recording your IP with the UK IPO?