IP - what every SME should know

Intellectual property (IP) is a legal concept that protects the rights of intangible creations, such as inventions. The UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) defines it as the tool through which people own the work they create. Common types of intellectual property include patents, copyright, industrial design rights, trademarks, and know how.

Without IP protection creations belonging to your company will be vulnerable to use by others and therefore full financial benefit may not be gained by you. This may inhibit your ability to further develop your technology and company. It may also mean that you are unable to commercialise your product as competitors or larger companies may have more resources than you to do so.

Meet STFC’s IP Manager, Elizabeth Bain

Elizabeth Bain, IP Manager at STFC
(Credit: STFC)

As STFC’s IP expert Elizabeth Bain acts as an impartial advisor to SMEs and entrepreneurs that are linked to the campuses, such as incubatees, tenants and those who attend campus events. Elizabeth provides high-level IP and business advice on areas such as IP policy, strategy, patent management and managing IP threats.

The IP team deals with two main streams of activity related to STFC IP, the patenting of core technologies that are required to run and operate STFC facilities, and patenting specifically for licensing purposes for technologies that have come from STFC laboratory research and engineering projects. STFC creates a wealth of Intellectual property, and currently has a portfolio of sixty-five patent families, copyright in software and processes, and a mass of unregistered design rights in engineering drawings. Part of Elizabeth’s role is to disseminate patent opportunities through the online IP database. These are available to a variety of enterprises such as: SMEs and entrepreneurs who want to set up a high tech company, keen to take advantage of STFC technologies and the associated business support; existing companies that wish to introduce new product lines; or perhaps someone who wants to work in collaboration with STFC on a new project.

If there are any technologies that are of interest to you please get in touch

The breadth of IP can be daunting, but there are a few pieces of advice that can help an entrepreneur to get started:

Know the power of your IP

Make sure you have an IP policy and strategy, to manage company interactions with third parties that affect ownership of your IP as this could be critical to your company’s operation and innovation. Having a strategy and policy in place is necessary to secure and understand who owns the IP which is critical to your company and the value of your brand. An IP strategy includes elements such as an IP audit, IP policy, information management and contracts.

Carry out an IP audit

An SME should know what IP it holds and be able to carry out an audit to determine what is of value to their core business products and brand. If you have any patents check the claims to make sure they provide the correct coverage for your products and processes.

Having a granted UK patent which covers a component in your product can mean you are eligible for the Patent Box tax relief available to innovative companies.

The use of a quality assurance system and cost centres is important here, as they provide tractability and a log of when the IP was created, by whom and how much it cost. This will make also make any tax credit claim easy to put together and to justify.

Advice on contracts

Contracts are essential to the running of your business, no matter the size, so make sure you understand what you have in place to ensure the ownership of any IP important to your company, product or service. Consider wider implications of IP ownership, for instance if you are outsourcing software development that is key to your manufacturing you need to own the copyright, so you can sell the product as a whole. Understand too that items such as your engineering drawings are IP for which you hold design rights and copyright. The UKIPO provides online templates for non-disclosure agreements, collaboration and development agreements, and sales agreements.

The main thing to bear in mind with a contact is, if you don’t understand it on day one, you probably won’t understand it when you actually need to use it, so make sure it is written in plain English, avoiding any legalese. Organisations such as the Chambers of Commerce offer a contract writing services. At the Manchester Chamber of Commerce these can be written by engineers who use a common-sense attitude to licensing, collaboration and sales agreements. In addition there are a lot of templates online available to buy.

The price of patents

One of the main deciders of how and why high-tech start-ups develop their IP policy is money, so consider how to patent in the most cost effective manner. This means making sure you cover your key products, as identified in your IP audit and regularly evaluate your patent portfolio to check you are covered. Seek advice on how to patent in a cost effective manner so they don’t cost you too much.

The majority of costs come in the early years of patenting, so generally the best time to patent would be as late as possible prior to product launch. Get in touch for more advice about the patent lifecycle.

What is in a name ?

An important piece of advice for SMEs and marketers is to check the company name on the online trademark register before using it. It is worth paying the registration fee for the name on the same day as purchasing your domain name. There is nothing worse than buying the domain name, ordering the art work and stationary and finding you don’t own the trade mark and you have no right to use it! As a start-up company you may not have lost money, but this oversight can have legal repercussions in later years.

For more information on how STFC is helping SMEs with IP and licensing and information on IP workshops run at STFC , please email: IP info. For information on patents available through STFC please visit the IP website.

STFC is also involved with the company Marblar where we select STFC technologies to be developed into a potential product.

UKIPO template contract, NDSs and an IP audit can be found on the UKIPO website

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000