21 April 2020

Hints & tips to help navigate your IP strategy during uncertain times

Is your business innovating during these worrying and economically challenging times? Make sure your IP strategy is up-to-date and prepared for when the economy improves again. Here are our top five hints and tips.

1. Perform an IP audit and update it regularly

Understanding exactly what intellectual property (IP) your business has is critical. Registered (or registrable) and unregistered rights can be equally important, and it is essential to map those rights to the commercial value of the associated parts of the business. Your IP portfolio and strategy should be regularly reviewed and updated to match your business goals as they progress and change. Ensure that your largest revenue streams are the most tightly protected: it is the associated IP in these areas of the business that can enhance their value to the extent that, not only does it help to stop your competitors from copying you and taking some of your market share, but it can also act as surety and security for investment and borrowing to help fund the growth of your business.

2. Be smart about your IP budget

Cash flow is of most concern to many businesses at this economically challenging time, and it is tempting to halt escalating IP costs indiscriminately without really considering the longer term impact. Instead, take the time to consider what is essential in order to protect your key business goals, and then get the timing right: it may not be necessary to do everything immediately; by prioritising key rights and using grace periods and extensions of time strategically, costs can be staggered and cash flow can be managed without undermining your potential head start as we come out of these uncertain times.

3. Don’t forget about your unregistered IP rights

Not all IP is, or has to be, registered to add value to your business. In fact, for some businesses, unregistered IP rights, such as copyright, trade secrets and know-how, may provide more powerful protection for an innovation than registered rights. These types of rights come into being automatically but, in order to be effective, you first need to identify them, and then ensure that your IP strategy includes policies for using them to their full advantage, as well as adequately safeguarding them in the longer term.

4. Understand and exploit your commercial landscape

If you are using, or considering, innovation to drive your business forward as we emerge from the current crisis, it is important to understand what your competitors are, or have been, doing. Do you know who your main competitors are and where they have been concentrating their main R&D efforts in recent years? If not, you might want to consider including a landscape search and analysis in your IP strategy, which can help you, to not only understand where your business sits within the globally competing market, but also provide key insights into potential technical areas of growth and innovation for your own business.

5. Don’t overlook your global competition

It will be increasingly important to safeguard your overseas markets (or potential markets) against your global competitors, especially considering that some countries may be released from the current ‘lockdown’ restrictions before the UK. Overseas IP protection can be a bit daunting, especially in terms of the cost implications at a time when cash flow may be of paramount concern; but failing to secure your overseas revenue streams could prove to be even more expensive in the longer term. There are lots of different ways to put overseas IP protection in place, while ensuring that the associated cost matches the potential commercial value of the product or service it serves to protect and, if this is managed strategically, you can ensure that your innovation is properly protected as we begin to return to some kind of stability following COVID-19, without breaking the bank.