Innovation and creativity are driving forces in today’s economy and it’s more important than ever for your company, regardless of size, to leverage and protect your intellectual property (IP) to maintain a competitive edge and fuel long-term success.
As a busy entrepreneur, you might think you have more pressing concerns like building a brand or developing a minimal viable product. But understanding and profiting from your IP? You might not even know where to start.
“Intellectual property is an intangible asset that can have tremendous value for any business — it’s not just big companies that need to be aware of their own IP and how to protect it,” says David Morrison, a partner with Bereskin & Parr LLP, one of the leading intellectual property law firms in Canada. “The shift into the digital economy has only magnified the importance of IP and the need to protect it at an early stage of business development.”
Here are five key steps that every business owner should follow as you begin your IP journey:
- Identify your IP. Which assets have strategic value for your business or give you a competitive edge. What needs to be protected?
- Develop an IP strategy. Once you’ve determined what kind of IP protection you need, develop an IP strategy that focuses on priorities and resources. Set a budget for registering and protecting your IP assets.
- Align your IP strategy with business goals. No plan is written in stone, so be prepared to adapt or update your IP strategy as your business plan evolves.
- Don’t overshare. If you publicly disclose confidential information before applying for a patent, you might not be able to protect your IP. Remember, if your idea or invention can be reverse-engineered, it probably will be.
- Do your homework and seek expert advice. Familiarize yourself with the different categories of IP protection and which may be appropriate for your situation. An IP professional can help decide whether to apply for a patent or keep your IP confidential as a trade secret – it isn’t always a simple choice and depends on your overall business goals.
Understanding IP can seem complicated and daunting, Morrison says, so it’s a good idea to reach out to a patent professional or tap into the wealth of tools and resources available through provincial and federal agencies or regional accelerators in your area.
Breaking Down Barriers to Understanding IP
OwnershIP by Innovation Factory is a free program designed to help business owners like you understand and unlock the value of protecting your IP. OwnershIP offers personalized educational resources to help start-ups and scale-ups understand their current gaps, and develop a robust IP strategy that fits their business goals.
Through OwnershIP you can receive support, guidance and legal services and potentially leverage up to $30,000 in funding and resources to protect your business’ intellectual property.
How To Protect Your IP Assets
Just like tangible assets that you can touch – factory machinery, product inventory or a building —intellectual or creative assets affect your bottom line and must be used strategically to position your business for long-term success. Intellectual assets may include inventions, new technologies or designs, unique processes, original software, a brand or logo, and more.
There are five types of IP protection in Canada:
- Patents: A patent is essentially a legal agreement between the government and the owner of an original invention that gives the owner temporary monopoly powers (20 years in Canada) over their creation to prevent others from using or selling it.
- Trademarks: A trademark is a sign, word, phrase or combination of words, symbols, images, colours and shapes — such as a logo or wordmark — associated with the goods or services that your business offers.
- Copyright: Copyright protects literary and musical creations, performances and recordings from unauthorized use or reproduction. Computer software can also be protected by copyright.
- Trade Secrets: Trade secrets are confidential information that has commercial value such as a recipe or formula, industrial process, customer data, an algorithm or source code. Unlike patents, which must meet specific criteria and require the owner to disclose information about their invention, trade secrets are unregistered and kept confidential. It’s up to the owner to decide what it considers a trade secret.
- Industrial Designs: Industrial designs protect the appearance or unique visible features of a finished product. This form of intellectual property protection is not based on the materials or methods used to make the product.
Invest in long-term success by protecting your IP
Morrison says investing in IP protection is like buying insurance: you might not need it, but the results could be disastrous if you don’t have it. Without it, there would be little to stop a competitor from making and selling a knockoff of your product, or offering similar services under an identical brand.
Securing a Canadian patent for an invention can take two to three years and requires an investment of $5,000 to $15,000, depending on the complexity of the technology, he says. Additional expenses for maintaining the patent are spread out over the next several years, and the cost goes up if you want a patent in more than one country. In return, you get 20 years of protection that allows you to develop a product and maximize its value while preventing unauthorized use.
By prioritizing protection of your intellectual property, you help your business by:
- Preserving competitive advantage: ensuring others can’t replicate your innovation strengthens your position in the marketplace.
- Fostering innovation and growth: a robust IP strategy encourages more innovation to drive business success.
- Building brand recognition: your brand is one of your most valuable assets, and protecting a trademark or logo helps people associate particular values such as quality and service with your brand. This builds customer loyalty and trust.
- Attracting investors: a strong intellectual property portfolio makes it easier to attract potential investors and strategic partnerships. Even if you don’t have formal IP, it’s important to demonstrate that you are aware of its importance and have a plan for it.
Safeguarding your strategic IP can reap substantial benefits, but along with the rewards come additional responsibilities and risks. By prioritizing the protection of your innovations, brand, and/or creative works, you will help position your business for long-term success.