The start of a new year means it’s time to prepare a list of business goals to accomplish this year. This year every business should have intellectual property (“IP”) goals for the new year ahead!
IP is an intangible asset that primarily includes trademark, copyright, patent, and trade secret rights. Research shows that there has been a dramatic shift in the last few decades of overall corporate wealth shifting from tangible and physical assets (like equipment and buildings) to intangible and knowledge-based assets (like IP). Intangible assets, like IP, are becoming the lifeblood of most businesses. However, it can be difficult for businesses to quantify the value of their IP and therefore often fail to take the necessary steps to protect the future of their IP. (Which is why we hear so many stories about companies in the middle of litigation over ownership of ideas, copyrights, trademarks, and patents.)
Unfortunately many businesses do not see the importance of protecting their intangible assets until it is too late. Oftentimes a business will not spend as much time and resource on their IP protection in lieu of addressing more immediate concerns in the business. However, neglecting to have an IP strategy can be a costly mistake. In the famous words of Benjamin Franklin, “[b]y failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Thus the start of a new year is the perfect time for a business to map out IP goals for the year ahead. Here are 10 IP goals for the New Year that every business owner should consider on an annual basis, regardless of industry, size, or value.
(1) View your IP strategy as a Process, not an Event
IP strategy must be viewed as a process not as an event. IP is not a “set-it and forget-it” sort of deal. IP should, and must, become a part of a business’s ongoing process and decision making. IP protection should be at the forefront of each business’s needs. A business must implement their IP into their overall business strategy, and not view IP as a singular event to be placed on a shelf and forgotten about. The notion that once you apply for IP protection you’re done is far from the truth. You should be mindful that IP protection is an ongoing process.
(2) Conduct an IP Audit and Review
Conducting an IP audit is essential for any business at any stage. IP owners should step back and review their business’s IP assets for a variety of reasons, but the principal reasons for an IP audit is to ensure that a business’s IP are adequately identified, protected, and exploited.
An IP audit will also help a business identify new and existing IP assets as well as give a business a clear overview of their intangible assets. The dangers of not conducting an IP audit include the risk of missing deadlines, having registered marks canceled, and most importantly loss of valuable IP rights.
(3) Create a Master List of Your IP
Every business should create a master list of all of their IP. The master list provides a convenient place to reference all of the IP that the business owns.
(4) Make Sure Everyone in the Business Knows What IP the Business Possesses
It is essential that not only upper management stay up to date on all IP owned by the business, but employees should know as well. IP enforcement requires vigilance and constant monitoring in order to ensure no other individuals or companies are infringing on your rights as an IP owner. Thus, the more employees there are to keep an eye out for any products and/or services that potentially infringe your business’s IP the better. More eyes looking for potential infringement means more ways a business can potentially catch an IP infringer.
(5) Budget for IP Protection
All businesses should be taking into account IP protection in their budget. Setting aside a predetermined percentage of the budget for IP protection is vital for patent, trademark, and copyright protection. After all, why would a business spend money, time, effort, and resources to develop a brand, product names, logo, slogan, and business name if there is no money in the budget to provide them IP protection? A brand without IP protection has little to no legal rights and is subject to easily being copied by competitors. Rather to be safe than sorry. Budget for IP protection.
(6) Assign a Specific Person, or Group, the Task of Being in Charge of IP
A business should always have at least one employee who is in charge of IP matters. Personnel changes can often cause a business to miss important IP deadlines. Having an employee of the business assigned to IP oversight is key to the business staying compliant with deadlines and potential conflicts. This person should be the main point of contact and have a relationship with the business’s IP attorney.
(7) Establish What to Do With Each IP Asset
Oftentimes money will be expended to protect one particular project’s IP that is later forgotten about when a newer, shinier project comes along. However, having a plan for each IP asset can prevent IP assets from being forgotten, and can also make capitalizing on each IP asset easier. Having a person in the business designated to perform IP oversight can help each IP asset stay on track. Additionally, having an overall goal with each IP asset will maximize returns and will minimize the money wasted on side projects.
(8) Look for Overlap Between Trademark, Copyright, and Patent Protection
Generally, an effective IP strategy will find overlap between the three main branches of IP protection, trademark, copyright, and patent, whenever possible. For example, a patent protected brand product would ideally be supported by a clever and unique trademark, that would then utilize copyright protection for supporting materials like manuals or literature that accompany the product. This scenario would be the ideal situation and would not happen for every product. The main takeaway is that a business should attempt to overlap IP protection whenever possible.
(9) Only Enter into Contracts that Clearly Define IP Ownership, Obligations, and Rights
Virtually every contract, whether it be for services or purchasing a product, will likely contain a provision for IP. And like the vast majority of contracts, most clauses will favor the party preparing the contract, often with detriment to the other party. And it is not totally uncommon to see contract clauses that place all liability for IP infringement on the purchaser. Thus, read all contracts carefully! And especially the IP clauses discussing ownership, obligations, and rights because you never know what type of liabilities you may be incurring or IP rights you may be signing away. Be mindful and understand what each contract you enter into actually means.
(10) Confer with your IP Attorney and Form a Relationship
Talk with your IP attorney to help you form the perfect IP strategy tailored to your business’s specific needs and wants. IP attorneys are professionals who are trained to help guide you from start to finish on your IP strategy. Because forming an IP strategy for your business can be a little tricky and an experienced IP attorney can help you along the way. Forming a working relationship with your IP attorney will undeniably help your business protect valuable IP assets.
Hopefully these 10 IP goals will help you manage a successful and healthy IP portfolio for the rest of the year. IP protection is just too important to not make it a priority for your business.