Lockdown your IP: Covid-19 and Protecting your Business’ Intellectual Property

posted by KeithDaniel

As we enter our 12th week of the UK wide lockdown, it has been impressive how quickly businesses have adapted to ‘remote working’. The current global pandemic has left our economy in a perilous situation and we understand that protecting your business’ intellectual property (IP) may seem a very low priority at the moment.

However, a lot of businesses may be overlooking the importance of protecting their existing IP or securing protection for future IP that may be generated. Understandably, the focus and resources of many business will be employed elsewhere. However, many businesses are becoming more innovative, both in the development of new products and services and in the way they work, so it is more important than ever for businesses to conduct a ‘stock check’ of their existing IP and take proactive steps to protect and secure this.

During the current Covid-19 pandemic, businesses have taken advantage of the many financial support packages provided by government – they should also consider the grants available from the Welsh Government (for Welsh businesses) for IP Audits.

Stock Check your IP

IP isn’t only about patents and designs, but covers many things that are vital to the running of your business. This includes unregistered IP, such as confidential information and trade secrets, as well as registered IP, such as trademarks, design rights and patents. 

We encourage all clients to consider undertaking an IP Audit, which will allow you to asses what IP your business has. A well-constructed IP audit will allow your business to implement a more robust IP protection scheme.

The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) offers an IP Audit Plus programme which is aimed at small to medium sized businesses. This scheme provides companies with the opportunity to have an IP audit carried out by an IP professional, who will undertake a detailed review of the existing IP assets and give advice as to how to identify and maximise its value, and how to exploit it in the future.

A typical IP Audit costs about £3,000, however the IP Audit Plus programme allows companies to apply for a grant through the Welsh Government (for Welsh businesses) which, if successful, will secure a contribution of up to £2,500 from the UK IPO with the business making up the balance.

Such audits will provide not only understanding and advice regarding their IP, but also strategic advice and guidance regarding protecting their IP.

Protect your IP

Whether or not you undertake and IP audit, there are many ways your business can protect its IP during lockdown.

Below are a number of tips for businesses and organisations to help them not only ensure protection of valued IP but also avoid potential infringement:

Confidentiality and resource sharing: with the increase in use of online platforms to conduct business meetings, there will be a need to protect the contents that is shared. Monitoring how this content is used and safeguarded has become increasingly challenging in the current remote working environment. Without proper safeguarding, confidential information and valuable ideas may be at greater risk of misappropriation. To mitigate this risk, organisations should consider:

  • Password protecting or encrypting all confidential documents;
  • Limiting access to small groups of employees on a need to know basis;
  • Issue employees with guidance and training on how to safeguard information and update them on the company’s confidentiality procedures. Make use of this time to encourage staff to undertake training using online learning platforms and to remind them of their obligations;
  • Review your current Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) to ensure these are still current and appropriate and implement NDAs for any new disclosures.

Brand protection: as businesses look for creative ideas and how to adapt and change its business during these uncertain times, organisations must be cautioned of the temptation to directly copy its competitors. In particular, they should be aware of reproducing any work, including articles, images and website content. Ensuring your brand portfolio is successfully protected will give your business a significant competitive advantage:

  • Review your brand portfolio, and ensure that your key names, brands and products are appropriately registered;
  • Consider any new advertising or website content that is generated during this time, which could not only include new products or campaigns but also new designs and inventions. It is now more important than ever to ensure your enterprise is protected;
  • Ensure all work and materials created by you, and your employees, is protected by copyright, displaying the © symbol where possible;
  • Register any rights that can be registered, such as brand names, logos and designs to protect your brand and product.

Cooperation and Collaboration: there has been increased collaboration, particularly in the pharmaceutical, life science, technology and manufacturing sectors but this brings increased risk. Significant care should be taken before any sharing of IP takes place and all organisations should consider:

  • Reviewing their confidentiality agreements and ensuring these are up to date and effective by limiting the scope for using your confidential information;
  • Reviewing your current IP licenses and implementing new ones where any third party requires access to your IP. This should also limit the field of use and restrict any third party’s ability to exploit your IP;
  • Updating and amending your exclusive partners and consider whether your collaborations should be made non-exclusive.

Although we understand that IP protection is not at the forefront of many business owners’ minds at the moment, it is important that they do not lose sight of the importance of safeguarding their IP.

If you would like to discuss the opportunity to apply for an IP audit, or have any queries regarding the protection of your IP, please contact Abbie Anthony or our commercial team – aanthony@berrysmith.com or by phone 029 2034 5511