Along with human creativity and inventiveness, intellectual property (“IP”) is all around us. Every product or service that we use in our daily lives is the result of a long chain of big or small innovations, such as changes in designs, or improvements that make a product look or function the way it does today. Take a simple product for example, a pen, Ladislao Biros famous patent on ballpoint pens was in many ways a breakthrough. But, like him, many others have improved the product and its designs and legally protected their improvements through the acquisition of IP rights. The trademark on your pen is also intellectual property, and it helps the producer to market the product and develop a loyal clientele.
This would be the case with almost any product or service in the marketplace. Take a CD player. Patent protection is likely to have been obtained for various technical parts of a CD player. Its design may be protected by industrial design rights. The brand name is most probably protected by a trademark and the music played in the CD player is (or has been) protected by copyright.
So, How Does this Affect Your Business?
Regardless of what product your enterprise makes or what service it provides, it is likely that it is regularly using and creating a great deal of intellectual property. This being the case, you should systematically consider the steps required for protecting, managing and enforcing it, so as to get the best possible commercial results from its ownership. If you are using intellectual property that belongs to others, then you should consider buying it or acquiring the rights to use it by taking a license in order to avoid a dispute and consequent expensive litigation.
Almost every SME has a trade name or one or more trademarks and should consider protecting them. Most SMEs will have valuable confidential business information, from customers’ lists to sales tactics that they may wish to protect. A large number would have developed creative original designs. Many would have produced, or assisted in the publication, dissemination or retailing of a copyrighted work. Some may have invented or improved a product or service. In all such cases, your SME should consider how best to use the IP system to its own benefit.
Remember that IP may assist your SME in almost every aspect of your business development and competitive strategy: from product development to product design, from service delivery to marketing, and from raising financial resources to exporting or expanding your business abroad through licensing or franchising.
Furthermore, Intellectual property rights are currently a very important element that SMEs which engage in exporting all types of goods or services should take into account. There are two major reasons for this. On the one hand, it might be important to register a certain type of innovation or new work or process that is being used so that it won’t be copied by competitors. Otherwise, other companies may take advantage of the efforts made by the SME in developing this new idea. On the other hand, it is critical for SMEs to be acquainted with the intellectual property system to avoid getting involved in activities that border on illegality. For example, a fruit producer that is acquainted with the intellectual property system will avoid using patent-protected seeds without paying the pertinent license; otherwise, it may incur legal problems.
Why are Intellectual Property Rights Important for SME’s?
IP is a key consideration in everyday business decisions. It helps stimulate innovation and growth, bring in monetary returns, build brand visibility and ensure organizational growth. SMEs can rely on IP to boost productivity, earn licensing fees and even get royalty. Furthermore, IP helps create monopoly and offers protection to the business, preventing others from commercially exploiting their innovation.
The gains of IP cannot be overemphasized. Businesses may come and go, but some brands last forever. They become recognizable icons that engrained into each generation. Some of them have grown into empires that outlive the creators and become a part of history. Let’s use Coca-Cola brand to illustrate this point. With a brand value worth of about $179.3 Billion USD as of June 2018, Coca-Cola one of the most valuable brands in the world, remains the bestselling carbonated soft drink beverage company in the world. John Pemberton, a medicine inventor and a morphine addict, created the formula of Coca-Cola in the late 19th century. Since then, they have ruled the soft-drink market. The success of Coca-Cola lies in its secret recipe. Coca-Cola Company instead of using patent legislation to protect its business interest opted for trade secret protection and decided to keep the recipe of their product as a secret to safeguard its advantage over other competitors. And this brilliant idea turned the fortunes of the company in a way that very few could have predicted at the time.
In summary, intellectual property is created by most companies, whatever business they are involved in. For many of these organisations, intellectual property is even their most important asset. Safeguarding this possession is therefore vital and can offer SMEs many opportunities. It is therefore essential that SMEs consider protecting their creations through intellectual property and efficiently manage these assets to reap the most from their investment.
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