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IP strategy: increasing growth for your early-stage business

12 August

6 mins

The UK, thanks to a surge fuelled mostly by investments in the fin-tech, AI and clean energy sectors, is now the fastest growing tech ecosystem in Europe.

The importance of a carefully thought out and commercially sensitive IP strategy is key for early-stage tech businesses, and particularly those in these fast-growing sectors. Not only will this help you to avoid costly mistakes occurring later down the line, which can be more damaging just before a deal or investment is about to go through, but an effective IP strategy should add value to your business and help drive revenue – whether it be through locking in supply chains or keeping competitors ‘off the grass’.

Develop your IP strategy from the outset

Our team works with businesses of all sizes, from small startups to large multinationals. Over the years, we have helped build IP portfolios for companies that have transitioned from startup to SME and beyond, and feedback frequently points to the fact that the development IP portfolios is often a large driver in the value of investment or sale that was achieved for their businesses.

We appreciate that cash is often tight for startup businesses such as yours, and it can be hard to justify spending money on patent applications before any seed investment has been raised, but the development of an IP strategy from the outset doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be as simple as identifying aspects of the business/technology that are being developed and assessing how commercially important they are to the business (i.e. its ‘USP’). Once this exercise has been carried out, the outcome may be as simple as “we want to keep this stuff secret until we have raised sufficient investment to file a patent application” and/or “we are happy to tell other people about this aspect of our business now to generate interest and to secure investment, but want to keep this bit secret”.

A common dilemma for startups is what to keep secret and make public. On the one hand you may be scared to give everything away, but on the other hand you are excited to tell investors and the wider world what you are working on. By having a carefully thought out plan, these competing interests can be balanced to help ensure that your key IP assets are not lost by inadvertent disclosure in an attempt to raise investment and get the business off the ground. Trying to fix these problems later down the line – such as after some early success and/or when further investors come on board – when the horse has already bolted, can instead prove far more costly than if a conscious decision regarding an IP strategy had been made from the outset.

Investors want to see a coherent IP strategy

By developing a coherent IP strategy from the beginning, you can reassure your investor(s) that you have made conscious decisions about where the business is going, which in turn will give them the confidence that their investment will remain secure. From our experience, they will also appreciate if you can explain how their investment is going to be used to further build and expand on your IP portfolio – they like to see where their money will be going and why. No investor is going to want to invest in a business if the key IP has been given away.

A commercially sensitive IP strategy adds value and increases investment

A key driver of the value of many VC invested businesses (and in turn, the value of their business), will be their IP. An important distinction here is that the IP has to be commercially relevant. If the IP (e.g. in the form of patents) is commercially focused, it can provide much more ‘bang for its buck’ and therefore perform many different functions – e.g. locking in a supply chain or simply keeping competitors ‘off the grass’. 

Of the many startups we work with, the majority are surprised at how IP, and in particular patents, can be used strategically in order to help achieve commercial objectives for their businesses.

Contact a member of the Mathys & Squire team to discuss how we can help to increase the growth and value of your business by making your IP work harder for you.

A version of this article was published in Startups Magazine.

Written by: Andrew White