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How to protect your business ideas

The Government has called upon small businesses to do more to protect and exploit their innovations, but where should a small business owner like yourself start?

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The Government has called upon small businesses to do more to protect and exploit their innovations, but where should a small business like yours start? A recent Intellectual Property Awareness Survey of Business, carried out by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), has found that only 15% of small companies have ever sought advice on safeguarding their ideas and only 11% of firms assign responsibility for managing intellectual property (IP) rights. When you compare this to 43% in larger companies, small businesses are trailing far behind; potentially missing out on valuable income from their creativity and running the risk of someone copying their ideas. Perhaps this is because intellectual property (IP) is seen as something only big businesses have the time and resources to tend to, whilst many smaller companies probably aren't even aware of how to go about protecting their IP. What is IP? Intellectual property is one of your most valuable assets, giving you the competitive advantage over your rivals. You need to understand the scope of your intellectual property rights. Some areas may be commercially valuable others may not. Adopting the right approach can save you money by identifying what needs to be protected and how best to do this and secondly in deciding how to enforce or exploit those rights. Registered IP rights include: Trade marks are signs which identify your goods and services and distinguish them from others. They can consist of words, logos, pictures, shapes, sounds and colours or a combination of any of these. Patents are rights granted by the Government to an inventor of a product, which gives them the right to stop others from making, using or selling the invention without permission. Registered design protects the look and design of your products for up to 25 years. You can formally protect the appearance of the whole or part of your products, including lines, contours, colours, shapes, texture and materials. To qualify for protection your designs must be new and have "individual character". Unregistered IP rights include: Copyright protects creative endeavour and protection depends on the type of copyright. Copyright arises automatically when original works are created and protects the expression of ideas rather than the ideas themselves. Your business will almost certainly use, create or commission material that is protected by copyright. Design right protects the shape or configuration of your products for up to 10 years. Design right relates to functional designs, which are original and not commonplace and will enable you to stop others copying your designs. Unregistered design also protects designs for three years. If you choose not to register a design (capable of registration) then it will also be protection for three years from first marketing. Protect your IP The IPO offers a range of information and services to help companies identify and benefit from their inventions and designs, including: A free online IP health check tool to help businesses understand different areas of IP Workshops delivered throughout the UK to teach business advisers about IP An IP ‘master class' course in partnership with Coventry University and the British Library Free regional IP awareness seminars for businesses Free guidance documents on a range of IP topics, including the basics of country-specific IP guides for UK exporters to Brazil, China, Korea, India and Vietnam to help British companies in the major markets around the world. More information about the services provided to businesses can be found on the IPO website.