How do I best protect the VALUE in my business?
- PHYSICAL ASSETS e.g. staff, customers, premises, stock, cash
These are relatively easy to protect through having the right practical arrangements, such as security and risk assessments and also the right insurances, just in case things do go wrong:
- Employee liability and public liability
- Product liability
- Buildings and contents
Also consider having “retention of title” clauses in your contracts with customers especially if you have long payment terms. These clause retain your ownership over your goods until you have been paid. This means that if your customers go bust, you can claim back your goods, which rather than only having a claim in the pound for the sums you are owed.
- INTANGIBLE ASSETS e.g. goodwill, names, logos, ideas, concepts, designs, together known as “intellectual property”
These can be more difficult to protect. It is important to understand a number of things:-
- Having a company name does not give you automatic rights to that name. If your name is important to you, you should trademark it. See www.ipo.gov.uk for further information about how to do that. If the name alone cannot be trademarked, you might be able to register a stylised version and/or a logo.
- Under the law of copyright there is some automatic protection in a written works but you must be able to prove that you are the author and when you produced it. This can be achieved by posting items to yourself, but not opening them, so that a date stamp is evidence of when they first existed. Or nowadays technology can sometimes prove date of origin, though this can be challenged.
- For other types of works there are 2 ways to acquire protection:-
- After a period of time, you can claim ownership and sue others for passing off HOWEVER, this means you are at risk until that point if someone copies it
- A better option is to register protection through a design or patent right. See the table below, for which might be relevant.
Whatever you decide at the outset, you should keep matters under review. You may need to review your strategy and invest more in protection as your business and your name as associated goodwill becomes more valuable. Also give very careful thought to the position of third parties who are creating goodwill for you e.g. website designers, employees. Under clear employment contracts, there is normally provision for the business to own the IP in anything created by employees. For third parties agree between you who owns the copyright.
Once you have spent the time and money in investing in your IP protection there are things that you can do to ensure you take full advantage of the protection you have.
- Makes sure you have copyright statements and disclaimers on your public documents including websites using TM and © where appropriate
- Use Non-Disclosure Agreements if you are sharing intellectual property with a third party. These should cover
- A description of the intellectual property that is being shared
- What the purpose is for sharing it
- How it can be used
- How long it lasts for
- What happens when the purpose has come to an end
- When you are using other people’s intellectual property make sure you have their permission – get licenses
- If you are working jointly with someone, set out in your collaboration agreements how the copyright is to be owned – jointly or by one or other party.