De-mystifying IP

Over the following 10 weeks, this blog will be helping you find your own answers to 10 key questions about your intellectual property, or IP.

Your guide will be Martin Brassell, CEO of Inngot, the company that provides web tools to identify, value and promote your IP. Here’s his introduction to the subject.

When we use the term ‘IP’ (meaning ‘intellectual property’) - what are we really talking about, and why does it matter?

Firstly: most of the time, we don’t mean ‘patent’. Patents are an important and valuable form of IP, but the two terms are in no way interchangeable; that would be like suggesting all cars are VWs. Many businesses with stacks of IP have no patents at all.

Officially, under UK law, IP falls into four categories. As well as patents, there are trade marks, designs and copyright. In descending order of strength:

  • patents can be granted for new and improved ways of solving problems;
  • trade marks protect brands;
  • designs protect the outward appearance of new things (they can be registered or unregistered); and
  • copyright covers the way ideas are expressed in words, music, drawings and other forms, including software code.

Secondly: IP is often characterised as being very complex. While you certainly need to exercise care with it, the basic principles are quite straightforward.

In simple terms, IP gives you rights to determine how your innovation can be made, used or distributed. It recognises that this ‘intangible’ is a business asset that can be bought and sold like other things. You can stop people directly copying you, and claim damages if they try. In the case of copyright, this protection is automatic – you don’t have to pay anyone, or register it anywhere.

Thirdly: when thinking about IP, you shouldn’t restrict yourself to things that fit into one of the four compartments above. A good example is a trade secret, most famously used to protect the Coca-Cola syrup formula. Rather than patenting your invention, which involves sharing the details of how something works with the rest of the world, you may opt to lock it away inside a product so that it can’t be discovered.

Other examples include a business model you’ve created, a process invented by you that has efficiency or quality benefits, a distinctive visual identity, or specialist technical know-how your company uses to which other people don’t have access. There are many more headings. As a rule of thumb: if it’s unique and distinctive – think of it as IP, regardless of the legal definitions.

In a world where business value is increasingly associated with ‘intangible’ assets like IP, you can’t afford to ignore the subject. Even if you want to make an invention freely available to anyone, you still have to set some rules. Over the coming weeks, we’ll help you work out the right strategy for your business.

Visit for details of how to profile and value your IP and intangibles.

Posted by Martin Brassell