Do you know your intellectual property?

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By David Goodbrand, Partner in the IP & Commercial team at leading Scottish law firm Burness Paull

‘Intellectual Property’, ‘Intangible Assets’, ‘Intellectual Capital’ … SMEs might be forgiven for being rather daunted by the variety of terms that are used to describe, what are often, key business assets.

However, Intellectual Property (IP) is basically an umbrella term used to describe a range of legal rights that attach to certain types of information and ideas, and to their particular forms of expression.

What is IP?

IP rights generally fall into two broad categories:

  • Registered rights: These rights that are granted on application to an official body, such as the UK Intellectual Property Office.  Once registered, these rights can assist the owner in stopping others from using the right without permission. They include:
    • Patents (e.g. to protect inventions);
    • Trade Marks (e.g. to protect brands and logos); and
    • Registered designs (e.g. to protect the look of a product).
  • Unregistered rights: These rights arise automatically upon creation, and give protection against copying or using the right.  They include:
    • Copyright (e.g. to protect books, blogs, software and websites);
    • Database Right (e.g. to protect data arranged in a systematic way);
    • Unregistered trade marks (e.g. to protect product names and brands);
    • Unregistered design rights (e.g. to protect appearance); and
    • Confidential information (e.g. to protect trade secrets and business plans).

Do you know what you have?

When it comes to IP, one of the biggest issues for all businesses is being able to know and understand what IP is actually owned and/or used by the business.  This is not always as clear or straight forward as you might think.  However, it is only by understanding and appreciating what you have that businesses can truly obtain best value from their assets … and hopefully avoid any potential liabilities!

So, here are some questions that you may wish to consider:

  • When was the last time that you audited your IP?
  • Do you know whether you hold any valuable unregistered rights?
  • Are there any rights that you own that you ought to seek registered protection for?
  • What third party rights do you use and what permissions do you have to use them?
  • What value do you attribute to your IP on your balance sheet?

If used and managed appropriately, IP can be a valuable asset and give your business a competitive edge.  However, if you don’t give IP the consideration it deserves you could be undervaluing your assets or potentially exposing your business to liability and claims.

Get to love your IP!


2 thoughts on “Do you know your intellectual property?

  1. Christine asher and Stuart Clifford

    Hello Interface,

    I was very interested in your article regarding IP. We are currently about to launch a website and would like to know how. And if we need to protect our business name…Bark&Lichen… And the names and designs of some of our natural wooden products. We would value a phone call to talk this over before we launch rather than have our product ideas copied within a short time of being on the web.
    Chris and Stuart.

  2. interfaceonline Post author

    Congratulations on your new business – it sounds very exciting. We strongly recommend businesses get independent advice on intellectual property from an expert in this area of the law. Experts, such as the author of this blog, are all listed on The Law Society of Scotland’s website a solicitor where you can search by area of expertise or geographic area.
    Also, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise have intellectual property experts who can give general information on IP, as well as Bright Ideas Scotland. Also the Intellectual Property Office is a good source of information.
    And if you are thinking of testing or developing your product give the Interface Business Engagement team a call on 0845 013 0536 to see if they can match you up with a university or research institute – this is the kind of project our new legal templates are designed for.
    Good luck with your new venture!


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