If you own your own business the fastest way to double it's value is by protecting your Intellectual Property (IP). It is so effective at increasing the value of your business because you don't have to create anything new! It's simply protecting what you already have created. In this blog I will share my top three learnings from a recent webinar I ran with my IP lawyer and also the biggest mistake most companies make that could cost them their brand.
This whole conversation came about when I was catching up with a friend and colleague Gareth Benson. We have been partnering on a few business deals over the years and he has recently come on board Social Star as a Personal Brand Consultant to help his clients with their personal brands. This fits nicely into his current business, True Blue, which brings clients stories to life using digital technology such as video and photography. We were discussing how I licence the IP I have created in Social Star to my Consultants and my growth plans over the coming years and he pointed out a massive hole in my strategy - IP protection!
I was shocked at how much I didn't know about this! After all I have a Masters of Entrepreneurship and just sold one of my businesses which was effectively all IP. Yet I realised my knowledge was woefully inadequate and I had left myself exposed when it comes to IP protection. Even worse, when I reviewed some of my larger clients I realised they were exposed too. Thus, I quickly ran a webinar to inform my audience on what they can do to protect their IP and offered a cost effective way to understand what shape they were in. Here are my top three take-away from the webinar:
IP PROTECTION TOP TIPS
1) Trademarks: If you have a business name and logo, you have a trademark worth protecting. I learnt this from my University studies and registered Social Star awhile ago. That means if anyone in Australia uses that name, the logo or the star in a similar industry I can dispute it.
My impression was that having a TM was enough, but no you have to have the R. Also you have to use it as much as possible to prove you want to protect it so I checked a few large and well established companies I work with and found that quite a few didn't have either TM or R symbols on their logos. In my research, I even found a new competitor who had copied a clients name and logo and if they don't have their name register the new entrant could force them to take their logo down! Imagine the cost of having to change your business name and logo after 20+ years of business. New business cards, stationary, website design, social media, lost SEO for the name, lost market presence, client confusion - scary!
Getting your trademarks protected is the minimum IP protection you need. Also remember that you need to register the trademark in each country you operate and also in each class of business you have. Best to get some advice before doing this to ensure you are fully covered. The next few tips is where the money is.
2) Systems: The biggest learning for me was that I need to protect my systems. The value in Social Star and in a lot of modern businesses lies in how you do things. Your processes. If you can replicate your skills to others by creating a process and they can deliver equivalent value by following it, then you have effectively created a system for your business to grow. This system can be protected by IP law to ensure your competitors can't copy you.
This is so important for information businesses where the main value lies in the knowledge you have created. Once you have protected this thought leadership you can leverage it through franchising and licensing, but IP protection is the first step. This is where the real value in your business lies and it provides tangible proof to any potential purchaser that you have something unique to purchase that they are unable to directly replicate. BOOM double your business!
3) Patents: This is a challenging area and one not suitable for everyone. I went down this path once when I thought I had the best idea in the world and wanted to protect it. I consulted an IP lawyer and spent tens of thousands on my branding and IP protection before I even had a product! Unfortunately the idea was way ahead of technologies time and I let it go. (Tile is the new version of my idea 10 years later...)
My learning from this experience is for any IP protection take it in stages. Once you have a business, protect your logo with a trademark. Then when you have worked with hundreds of clients and have a repeatable system and process, protect that. Finally, if you have some unique technology you can patent it.
Patents are really expensive as after the first year you have to register it in each and every country you want protection. This is massively expensive and time consuming so only start this process if you have investors who can afford the process. Also remember it's not use protecting your IP if you can't afford to defend it! So think logically about how you would discover breaches of your patent and also how you would react to any breaches you find.
In summary, the biggest mistake that could cost your brand is not getting your trademarks protected properly. Even if you think you are covered it's well worth a small investment to double check. Use the R symbol on all your public facing logos and once you have well used systems protect them too. Finally, have a realistic approach to IP protection and how you would use it in your business. Good luck!
P.S. If you would like to take advantage of our 90 minute IP business consultation with Gareth be one of the first 10 to click here and get the 75% discount rate.
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