Sunday, March 15, 2009

Management of Intellectual Property - Finding Your Forgotten Business Asset

For a service business it is particularly important to identify and manage Intellectual Property (IP). This article explains what IP is and how you can use it to benefit your business. Many people get confused about IP. In simple terms, Intellectual Property represents the property of your mind or intellect. In business terms, this also means your proprietary knowledge.

There are different types of IP, and a strategy should be developed to identify and protect relevant IP for your business.

The seven types of IP are:

1. Patents for new or improved products or processes.
2. Trade Marks for letters, words, phrases, sounds, smells, shapes, logos, pictures, aspects of packaging or a combination of these.
3. Designs for the shape or appearance of manufactured goods.
4. Copyright for original material in literary, artistic, dramatic or musical works, films, broadcasts, multimedia and computer programs.
5. Circuit layout rights for the three-dimensional configuration of electronic circuits in integrated circuit products or layout designs.
6. Plant breeder's rights for new plant varieties.
7. Confidentiality/trade secrets including know-how and other confidential or proprietary information.

Copyright is Automatic

The only type of IP that applies automatically is Copyright. In Australia the Copyright Act provides rule on how Copyright applies. For example, with written works Copyright applies for 70 years from the year of the authors death.

Whilst in Australia you don't need to include a copyright notice in your works, it can help to establish your rights in overseas countries and it may deter other people from using it incorrectly.

Trade Marks

A common IP issue for service businesses is the Trade Mark. The most obvious potential Trade Mark is the company name and logo.

For service businesses that rely on special services they have developed, or systems of delivering services (such as a proprietary training program or consultancy service), the name of the service may be suitable to be Trade Marked.

In this way the business can ensure the work they put into building a recognised name in their market does not get copied, abused, or stolen by another business.

Company and Business Names

Importantly it must be remembered that registering a company or business name does not give you ownership of the trade mark. The trade mark process is the source of IP ownership, not the business name registration process.

When you apply to register IP you will need to define exactly what it is you are protecting, select a class or multiple classes (categories) in which you want that protection to apply, and establish when you first starting using that IP.

This is where the services of an IP Laywer can be helpful. To ensure you get the protection you want from your IP it can be invaluable to engage an IP expert who knows the 'inside' of the IP approval process. There are often details that are easy to overlook that can have a dramatic impact on the protection you get from your IP.

Protecting your IP often comes down to having the correct procedures in place for sharing information. For example:

-Do you keep a register of your various types of IP?
-Do your employees have a non-disclosure clause as part of their employment contract?
-Do you have contractors sign confidentiality agreement when they are handling your sensitive information?
-Do you provide guidelines for how other parties can use your logo?
-Do you clearly mark your IP so others can recognise it.

Companies who develop something unique can benefit for many years if they can manage their IP correctly. Look at Coca Cola and KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), hiding their secret recipes for decades and maintaining their unique market position.

Microsoft and many other software companies have created various forms of IP such as copyright, trade marks, patented processes, and trade secrets. They often use licensing agreements to control how other parties use that IP.

Pay attention to identifying and protecting your IP to maximise your business success.

For further information on Intellectual Property in Australia visit the government website at IP Australia.

Stuart Ayling runs Marketing Nous, an Australasian marketing consultancy that specialises in marketing for service businesses. He helps clients to improve their marketing tactics, attract more clients, and increase revenue. For additional marketing resources, including Stuart's popular monthly newsletter, visit his web site at

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