Intellectual property and intangible assets (IP) are the key drivers of business success today. Most company founders and start-up directors understand that; but few of them really understand all of the different types of IP – and, crucially, how many of these assets their company actually owns and what they might be worth.
But when was the last time you sat down and reviewed your IP and put together an inventory of what you know. Uncovering and clearly identifying all your IP is the first step to managing it more effectively, valuing it, protecting it and leveraging its value for increased commercial advantage – perhaps even by using it as collateral for a loan in the future.
You probably know if your company owns patents and registered trade marks — you have to pay to register and renew those, so someone should be monitoring that process. But the fact that you may not have a patent (or may be in the process of applying for one) doesn’t mean you don’t have IP.
Patents can be very valuable and can certainly be used to carve out a market for an innovative company; but companies without patents will still have masses of IP.
Take copyright, for example. In most countries around the world, like the UK, you don’t pay to register that – instead, creators get copyright in the things they create automatically.
This includes marketing literature like brochures and presentations; software you develop; database designs; the look of your website; process documentation; and employee handbooks. You’ll probably have all of the above.
But if you’ve paid someone else to create any of these resources for you, then the copyright to these resources could be theirs, not yours – they are the creators, so copyright initially ‘vests’ in them, not their client.
So you must make sure that your contracts with suppliers like designers, photographers, ad agencies and copywriters include a legal assignation of copyright to you. The same is true of employment contracts – you need them to make it clear that you, the company, own the copyright of anything they create on your behalf.
Copyright is important in the age of the internet. Many companies are seeing their marketing materials hijacked by online sellers, often to push outright look-alike products or even outright fakes.
There are other rights you may own which you need to identify and document. Unregistered trade marks, for example – like product names you’ve been using for years. You may be able to register them, which could allow you to stop rivals using them for the markets you operate in.
Or how about trade secrets? Put simply, if you’re going to be able to claim that certain proprietary information is a trade secret – perhaps to stop a rival using knowledge they’ve got their hands on somehow – you have to be able to show that you’ve taken steps to protect it. If you don’t know yourself what trade secrets you own, then how can you possibly protect them?
Don’t assume, by the way, that trade secrets only cover things which you have successfully developed and are using – ‘negative knowledge’ has value, too. If rivals can find out what processes or innovations you have already researched and dismissed because they don’t work, they could save huge amounts in Research & Development costs.
Do you want to give away that kind of information for nothing? You will – if you don’t know you have it.
Without an inventory, you can’t protect your knowledge-based assets effectively.
But creating a catalogue of all of your IP and intangible assets is not just a defensive move. You can use such a list to help support your case for funding and loans, in discussions with investors, grant-funding bodies – and lenders.
For companies which are already revenue generating, and can show a track-record of sales or licensing built around solid IP and intangibles, debt finance becomes an option – and here, IP can be used as collateral, with the right banks. But they will want to know exactly what IP and intangibles you own, and which are the real power behind your sales.
Investors and bankers will also want to see your business strategy – and if you are an IP-rich company, then they will expect to see an IP strategy integrated into your overarching business planning.
Again, you can’t create an IP strategy without an inventory of your IP and intangibles. Having a record of what you know will help you identify fruitful areas for future focus across the company, informing resource allocation across Research & Development, sales and marketing and beyond.
At Inngot, we’ve spent years exploring how companies develop, use and monetise their registered intellectual property rights and other intangible assets, and we’ve distilled our research and real-world experience advising companies into our online IP identification and valuation platform and our unique tool-kit.
Our Goldseam® IP identification tool can now help you identify more than 80 different types of intangible asset that your organisation may own and use, enabling you to manage them more effectively for business benefit. You don’t have to have any specialist IP knowledge to use Goldseam – the system provides you with descriptions of the different non-physical assets your business may own, to make it easy to select the relevant items and build what we call an IP profile. If you do have registered IP rights, it helps to have the details – like registration numbers — to hand.
Goldseam has been specifically designed to help you find intangible assets you didn’t know you had, and to communicate their value to other people, like banks, investors and potential partners or customers.
And when you’ve reached the stage where you are looking to scale-up your business, then a Goldseam IP profile is the starting point for using our Sollomon IP valuation tool to produce a report you can share with potential investors and lenders to help secure funding for the next stage of your company’s growth.