How do I ensure my company protects its intellectual property?


Developing new products, ironing out bugs and flaws in your existing systems in a non-obvious way, or designing a particularly stylish clothing range may all give rise to intellectual property (IP) rights.

An IP capture process will help to ensure your company is able to identify potential IP rights as they are created, and will help your company to protect those rights.

Why should I care?

Because innovation on its own is often no longer enough. In today’s fast-moving world you must protect the fruits of your labour and ensure that other companies cannot simply rip-off your idea.

Without an IP capture process, you may not know what rights are being generated by your company. Worse, you may only realise that you could have protected an idea after it is too late to do so.

What can I protect?

You can use the following rules of thumb when deciding if something can be protected by IP rights.

Patents protect the way things work. The European Patent Office grant patents for new, non-obvious technical solutions to technical problems. Other patent offices around the world take very similar approaches to assessing patentability.

If you have overcome a problem when developing a product or system, and you suspect the problem may not have been solved in that particular way before in your technical field, you may be onto a winner.

Registered Designs protect the way something looks. So if the ‘new’ part of your creation is at least partly aesthetic then you may want to look to registering a design.

Copyright protects anything from photographs to films and literature to computer code. If you have put effort into making something which you have not copied from someone else and is a creative work such as a book, film, photo, or perhaps something more technical like some software, then copyright could help you.

Trade Marks protect brand names or slogans. They are used to provide protection over something that provides an indication of the origin of goods or services. If you’ve developed a new product and it has a name, you’ve created a new sub-brand, or started using a particular slogan, it is worth looking into whether or not you get a registered trade mark to protect that.

How do I set up an IP capture system?

It is remarkably simple to set up a simple and effective IP capture system.

The system will depend on the size of your company; however, there are important aspects common to all systems.

1. Educate your company. Make sure everyone knows the value of IP. In particular, make sure everyone knows not to disclose an idea outside of the company until the idea has been assessed to see if it gives rise to any IP rights.

It can be worthwhile investment in getting a professional to educate you and your team. It may be the culture of your company to disclose or publish a new product as soon as possible. However this can irreparably damage your right to protect the product through the patent or designs systems.

You need to understand what can be protected, but also the implications of actions when you have no protection.

“In an academic environment, the modus operandi is PUBLISH PUBLISH PUBLISH. However, I think that the important things to have in mind in terms of patent filing strategy are: to start as early as possible, and to try and have plenty of time to think before you have actually disclosed your invention.” Jeremy Holmes

2. Keep a log. A note of your developments can prove an invaluable tool when you look back to assess whether you have anything that can be protected. For many IP rights, the date on which the idea was conceived is also important.

For patents and designs, one way of doing this is providing an invention capture form, which your team can use to record new ideas they may have come up with or advantageous features they may have created. An example invention capture form is provided in the resources section.

3. Schedule regular points to check your log for potential IP rights. Make a note to assess the entries on a regular basis, perhaps every quarter or a set time before a new product launch. With the above ‘rules of thumb’ in mind, ask yourself, “can I make this idea go further?”

4. Take your good ideas as far as they will go. If you think your idea may be patentable, or worthy of design protection, it may be time to get some legal advice.

An advantage of using a capture system like this is that it provides a record of who has created IP. This will also help to identify who owns the IP.

Answer last updated: 17 Jan 2018