As we continue to move into the digital age, the value of a business increasingly lies in its intellectual property ("IP"). In this issue, we present to you several effective (and cost-effective) ways of protecting and harnessing IP for your business.

Cost-effective ways to harness IP for your business

Why is it important to constantly review your IP processes? Full-fledged litigation over IP is an expensive proposition. The key is in planning ahead so that your IP is protected without having to go to court. Even if legal disputes arise, it helps to ensure that there are contracts in your favour.

Every business can protect its IP

The important conceptual point is to make IP a key part of your business strategy. It is not as difficult as it sounds. The value of a business increasingly lies in its intellectual property. Most modern businesses differentiate themselves primarily through their IP, even if they do not realize it.

Take the example of a food and beverage business. What distinguishes the business can be the quality of its food, or great service from staff, among many other things. For the quality of food, you may enact business processes to treat your recipes and preparation techniques as trade secrets. To build upon the great service, you may wish to have non-solicitation clauses in the employment contracts so that when an employee leaves, he is not able to take other highly-trained staff with him.

Another business example is that of a consultancy. The IP of a consultancy lies in its know-how and the precedents that it has. Besides restricting access to its precedents and reports to employees and third parties, a consultancy can consider having strategically-introduced non-disclosure agreements with clients. This will at least give the impression that you are serious about what you know, and goes some way to preventing the disclosure of your know-how.

Media businesses have articles and images that are original and that define the business. One easy way of preventing the misuse of your images is to add a small watermark with your logo on the pictures that you publish. It is usually not much of a hassle but discourages others from re-using your images as their own.

Review your business processes

The steps you should take are highly dependent upon the nature of your business. Chances are, you are already taking some of the steps mentioned above. However, it will be good to have an outsider to provide some perspective on what else can be done to protect your IP at an early stage. Make use of all the advantages that you already possess.

A common area of review is in employee contracts. The basic modern employee contract usually has some variation of a confidentiality clause, a non-compete clause, and a non-solicitation clause. The employee contracts work in sync to protect a trade secret, and topreventan idea from becoming public knowledge before patent application.

Contracts are just one area of review. They must go together with appropriate checks and balances in business processes to have their effect.

Build a great business culture!

Above, we've talked about protecting the IP that you have in place, and having a structure that defends your business. But let's not forget that building a thriving business is also about constantly innovating. Having a great workplace environment and designing suitable incentives for your employees will go a long way towards creating more valuable IP!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.