Could I use some help?

The last in a series of 10 blogs by Martin Brassell of Inngot, helping you find your own answers to 10 key questions about your intellectual property, or IP.

Hopefully, these blogs have helped you feel a bit more comfortable with IP. However (as with so much else in life) it is important to understand your limits. A bit of time spent with a professional adviser, at the right time, may save you a lot of time, money and heartache.

To start with a ‘no-brainer’: if there is something potentially patentable about what you have, talk to a patent attorney at an early stage. This conversation won’t prejudice your application, and most good firms won’t charge you for a short initial consultation to take a look at what you’ve got.

Among other services, attorneys will search existing patent registries, looking for evidence of ‘prior art’. This will help you understand at an early stage whether you have something truly novel. Many attorneys started their careers as engineers or scientists, giving them a better appreciation of technology than you might anticipate.

If you decide to extend protection internationally, you may need technical translation services. More importantly, though, patent law itself is not the same in all territories (there are material differences between the UK and the US, for example) and you may need a local specialist to get the right result (all the more reason to think carefully about where you really need protection).

Do you need professional help with a trade mark application? Potentially, yes. Browse existing registered trade marks in your space (which you can do free of charge at www.ipo.gov.uk), and you will see that the length of the descriptions used to characterise protected products and services can vary enormously. Selecting the right classes, and having a comprehensive entry, will strengthen your mark and make it easier to enforce.

Designs are an easier DIY proposition, though there are still some decisions to be made. For example, you can defer publication of your design if you want to keep it secret from competitors for up to 12 months. You don’t need to specify in detail how your design should be classified, as the registry will do it for you, but you do need to remember to renew your protection every five years (and the costs of protection go up at each stage).

Of course, there’s always a chance that someone will challenge your registration, either at publication stage or thereafter. Equally, you might need to go after an infringing company. This is when advisers can really earn their money (especially since IP that’s been successfully tested in court is a lot more valuable).

This process used to be ruinously expensive for small businesses, but the recent introduction of a Patents County Court has helped. It caps your liability at £50k, which means you can make a credible threat to sue an infringer even if they are bigger than you are. There is a £500k limit to the damages that can be awarded, but the court can also award injunctions that may be worth a lot more.

Lastly, when thinking about the longer-term rewards for all your hard work, consider this point. Every time a business achieves an exceptionally good multiple at exit, it will be down to one thing - its IP and intangibles.

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

Others in the series:

De-mystifying IP

IP - Unlocking the hidden value of apps

IP - What have I got?

IP - Is what I have original and distinctive?

Is my IP really mine?

IP - How can I protect what I’ve got?

IP - Who else knows about what I’ve got?

IP - How open should I be?

IP - How big is the market for what I have?

IP - How intense is my competition?

IP - Can I realise my idea’s potential on my own?