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The Small Business Website Guide

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Intellectual property rights: Top tips for protecting your IP online

Take advantage of your intellectual property rights and protect your brand

In the ‘real world’ it’s easy to identify and protect the physical assets of your business, for example insuring your company car, locking away equipment and keeping your hard earned money safely stored in a bank account. But in the digital world, identifying and claiming ownership of your assets can seem like a more difficult task.

Taking your business online doesn’t necessarily mean opening yourself up to risk or losing ownership of your ideas, especially if you take advantage of your intellectual property (IP) rights. Many businesses believe IP relates only to inventing products or making new discoveries, but it actually relates to any form of original creation. If you own or run a business, you will own or use some form of IP.

At first glance it may seem like IP protection isn’t easily compatible with today’s online model of business, but not only can it help you protect your brand and reputation, it could account for over 70% of your business’ value. To help guide you through the IP minefield and get you on the path to protection, here is some intellectual property advice.

1. Plan, plan, plan.

No matter what your business model is or where you plan to trade, IP should be part of your business plan from day one. Before making any decisions, research your ideas thoroughly. Finding out if your company logo could infringe someone else’s trade mark might feel like a waste of time but it could be a worthwhile and cost effective exercise if it helps avoid future complications.

2. Trade mark your name.

You may have registered your company and own your domain, but did you know that neither of these actions actually give you sole ownership and exclusivity for their names? Just because you use the name and own the domain name doesn’t mean other people cannot use that name elsewhere online. Registering your company name as a trade mark may stop others trading under similar names or registering similar marks within your industry.

3. Know who owns your copyright.

Copyright can be a tricky issue. Be aware that if you hire a third party to develop your website, you need to put a contract in place to transfer the copyright to your company. Without this, the creator will still own the work. Similarly, make sure you have permission to use photographs, text or images you host on your website as these are all protected by copyright. Unauthorised use could result in legal action.

4. Don’t share too soon!

While you may be keen to share your new ideas or inventions with the world as soon as possible, keeping quiet about them until you’ve protected your IP is always the best way to do things. Are you aware that for an invention to be patentable, it mustn’t be disclosed anywhere prior to filing? This means that even mentioning on your website that you’ve created a new product could invalidate a patent application.

5. Take IP Equip.

The best way to begin to protect your IP is by understanding the basics of IP rights and how they work. IP Equip is a new e-learning course designed to give you a clearer understanding of the different IP rights and what IP assets your business might own. The course consists of four modules and can be completed in around one hour.