by the Berwins team
“Protecting my idea? Errm… no. I’m sorry Dragons, I hadn’t thought of that.”
As even the most casual viewer of Dragons Den will know, no matter how good an idea or well thought out a business proposition, a lack of protection can be a real stumbling block.
Assessing the Risk
In many ways, it’s a fairly natural problem to arise and one many start-ups will come across. You’ve had a fantastic idea. You’ve tested it, refined it, seen the potential for it to become the business you’d always dreamt of. There’s so much else to think about and plan, that even if Intellectual Property (IP) makes it onto the to do list, it’s not likely to be near the top. Should it be?
Well, the answer depends on the type of business you’re operating and your plans for it. There are three areas of IP to consider:
- trademark: a symbol, word or sign which distinguishes your goods or services from competitors;
- copyright: rights granted to the author, composer or publisher of a literary or artistic work;
- patent: the title or right to exclude others from making, using, or selling a specific invention.
A key part of any business plan should address these points and identify whether, if a competitor were to replicate what you are going to build your business on – most commonly a distinctive brand identity – it would harm your ability to trade and flourish.
Protecting Competitive Advantage
Whatever your industry, you’re going to face competition and differentiating what makes your business special is vital. Here, a trademark is a particularly powerful tool and gives you the legal backing to take actions if someone else were copy your special ingredient without authorisation.
In much the same way that you wouldn’t make a significant investment in a property without protecting it with insurance, you need to consider safeguarding the competitive edge which makes the business you are building unique.
But IP shouldn’t just be considered another cost, rather an investment. For any business, your brand is a hugely valuable asset. It’s the first thing that most customers see and, coupled with the product and service you offer it’s at the heart of what brings them back for more.
It’s also one of the key things you own ‘dragons’ – the investors or buyers key to your growth or exit strategy – will take notice of and a registered trademark not only increases security, but also adds value to your business.
Ultimately, protecting your intellectual property will involve time and consideration. It will also have a cost implication. It is, however something any new or existing business owner needs to explore because, while you may be registered at Companies House and own a domain name, failing to protect your brand could damage or devalue your business.
So, IP. Can you afford to be out?
Find Berwins at this year’s YBM on stand W17 in the Wharfe room.