Intellectual property

Why businesses need to protect their intellectual property and how you can use intellectual property information to improve innovation

Inventions, designs and trade secrets are all highly-valuable intellectual property rights (IPR), and businesses that don’t protect these assets are effectively acting as ‘charities’.

That was the message from Claire Howell, a senior lecturer at Aston Law School who is also a barrister of the Middle Temple and a principal fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Ms Howell, who was speaking at Aston Business School’s latest ‘Fresh Perspectives’ seminar, explained that every business has IP assets, ranging from copyright to designs, and from trade marks to patents.

She said: “IP matters because it’s out there, it’s a business asset. What matters is not just ideas, but the people who have them – and those people realising the value of those ideas then protecting and managing them.

“You can have all the great inventions and innovations in the world, but without protection it’s not a business – it’s philanthropy.”

Ms Howell, highlighting the importance of intellectual property rights (IPR), said:

  • about 50% of EU industries are IPR intensive;
  • one in three of all EU jobs rely on the IPR sector;
  • the sector accounts for almost 39% of EU GDP – worth €4.7 trillion;
  • IPR jobs command a wage premium of more than 40%;
  • the sector accounts for 90% of the EU’s trade with the rest of the world.

She said that all companies should have an IP audit to find out what IP they own, what IP they need, what IP their competitors have, and whether they are maximising value under current IP laws.

After an audit, Ms Howell said companies needed to create IP policies, regularly reviewing them to make sure they’re aligned with their business strategies, and communicating them to all staff.

This communication should start with those responsible for IP registration, litigation and licensing, and larger companies often have a chief IP officer. These staff either need to be on the executive board, or should at least have a direct line to those responsible for business strategy.

The most basic IP policies might be agreeing how to handle confidential information, with the potential for ‘need to know’ protocols, confidentiality clauses and exit interviews, and policies on how to deal with third party information.

More complex analysis may be needed to decide on an IP strategy – looking at which designs, trade marks and patents to register, and which valuable ideas, inventions and brands to protect.

Ms Howell said: “An IP strategy must be aligned with business strategy. What are the company’s long-term goals? How can the IP strategy help? Once you have a course of action, you must allocate proper resources.”

She said IP strategies depend on factors such as what the competition is doing, whether a business is in an expanding or shrinking industry, and whether it is a high value or mass market. Some businesses might just want to avoid getting into trouble with other companies’ IPR.

A good IP strategy, Ms Howell said, is not just about stopping others, or entering into expensive litigation for potential infringements. Instead, a business might use IP as a bargaining tool, to block competitors making similar items, or to create customer loyalty.

Or a business could form strategic alliances, increasing its market share and revenues through licensing.

Ms Howell added: “For IP policies to work, a company must be committed at the highest level, flowing agreed policies down to all staff through a skilled team with a proper budget. This means that everyone knows what’s happening with IP at all times.”

Book your free place at the next Fresh Perspectives event at Aston Business School ‘Brexit and interest groups - will anything change?’ on Thursday 15 June. Dr Patrycja Rozbicka will identify the short and long term consequences that will emerge regarding the UK interest groups’ lobbying capacity post-Brexit and how to counterbalance them.