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Top five tips to protect your intellectual property rights

The maze of intellectual property issues is now easier to navigate for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) since the introduction of new legislation. Find out how your business could benefit.

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The maze of intellectual property issues is now easier to navigate for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) since the introduction of new legislation. Find out how your business could benefit. Protecting a business's intellectual assets is as important to sole traders and SMEs as it is to multinationals, but until recently the UK's legal system has arguably favoured bigger companies that have greater resources. The High Court has traditionally ruled on most intellectual property (IP) cases but drawbacks for SMEs have included the time and expense of the process due to strict procedural rules. Evidence submitted to the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property and Growth highlighted that 17% of small and medium sized businesses had given up attempting to enforce their rights due to these reasons. But, from 1 October 2011, the Patents County Court (soon to be renamed the Intellectual Property County Court) was given an extended role which makes it a more viable and attractive option for SMEs. The legislation changes will have put IP on the agenda, possibly for the first time, for many smaller enterprises. So, what easy steps can SMEs take to help protect themselves? 1. Know your subject IP is well-documented online with several websites offering expert advice and knowledge. These include the Intellectual Property Office website operated by the official government body responsible for granting IP rights in the UK. Here, businesses can find out the difference between copyright, patent, design and trademark and, importantly, what protection is appropriate for them. 2. Get professional advice Intellectual property is one of the most complex areas of law. Although there is an abundance of information online, it is essential to seek expert advice about your specific product and circumstances. There are specialist IP law firms who will be able to guide your business and potentially avoid costly long-term problems. 3. Research As well as protecting your own IP rights, you need to be careful that you aren't infringing anyone else's. When developing new products, check out competing businesses to establish if there are existing similar products out there with IP rights. If there aren't, act quickly to secure them for your own business. 4. Don't be put off by costs The latest changes to the legal system are good news for SMEs. A cap on liability costs means that if a SME loses a court case and is liable to paying its opponent's costs, the total sum will not exceed £50,000 regardless of the legal bills incurred. Legislation changes also cap damages at £500,000 and trials are limited to a maximum of two days, again helping to reduce costs. More complex cases, however, will continue to be heard at the High Court where these caps are not imposed. 5. Don't be bamboozled by jargon Like many aspects of law, IP issues can be clouded in legalese. Specialist firms will cut through the complexity and deliver IP advice in simple, jargon-free language and outline a clear direction to take. About the author Ross Walker is Partner of Forrester IP Law Firm, one of the top Intellectual Property law firms in the UK, with expertise across a broad range of IP including patents, designs, trademarks and copyright. Ross is a UK chartered Patent Attorney, a European Patent Attorney and a European Trade Mark Attorney. For more information visit www.forresters.co.uk.

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