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Top 7 Tips To Protect, Exploit and Manage your Intellectual Property

By Cheryl Rickman

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Intellectual property has been a hot news topic recently. From the Chinese planning new IP laws to combat illegal downloads, and former FT Editor, Andrew Gowers leading an independent review into IP rights in the UK, to the thorny issue of digital rights management that has been highlighted with the French passing a new copyright law. The world of IP has been an eventful place of late. So, as a creative business or person, how do you protect, exploit and manage your intellectual property effectively? Cheryl Rickman, from Own It, provides a step-by-step guide.

What Is Intellectual Property? From the music we listen to and the books we read, to the computer software and products we use in our daily lives, each is a product of human creativity, and that creativity is protected. It is these creations of the mind, once expressed, that make up intellectual property (IP).

There is no IP protection in the UK for ideas or concepts, only for expression of those ideas or concepts. So, products, technical solutions and new inventions are protected by patents and design rights; literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works are protected by copyright; and brand names, words, sounds and even smells are protected by trade marks. (Even the ‘smell of freshly cut grass’ has been trade marked by a Dutch perfume company that uses it to give tennis balls their aroma).

Therefore, in business, everything, from your own designs, software, brand, packaging and logo should be protected. In a nutshell, all of your mental and creative ‘outputs’ can be transformed into tangible ‘commodities’ so that you can licence, sell, trade, divide or retain your rights to those ‘commodities’.

So, as well as making sure your own creative efforts are rewarded and protected, by properly managing your IP, you can:

·Gain the competitive edge by carving out a strong position for your brand, products and services and prevent your competitors from copying you. ·Increase your company’s market value, both before and after flotation. If you have various relevant patents in place and have registered your trade mark, you’ll find it easier to access venture capital and will be much more investor-friendly as a result. ·Create a strong credible brand and corporate identity to persuade more customers to do business with you. ·Avoid expensive litigation from those rights you may have infringed had you not fully understood IP. ·Prevent others from trading off your own creative endeavours

Managing your IP and Unlocking The Value Of Your Creativity STEP-BY-STEP


    · List any creative ‘assets’ – your intellectual property, from your logo and company name/brand, to your packaging design, products and software.

    ·Check your designs, expressed ideas and concepts and creative works are new and original.


    ·Put in place a simple confidentiality agreement with a client, potential manufacturers or investors BEFORE you start negotiations. You can download free sample contracts from A well drafted agreement will specify the type of information to be protected, how long the duty of confidentiality is to last and to whom the information may be disclosed.

    ·Assert your rights. Mark the author/publisher or creators name on all copies of your work, along with the date and country. © (Name of owner) (Year of creation).

    ·Put registered design rights and other IP renewal dates in your diary. Never forget IP rights or domain name renewals.


    ·Register designs, patents and trade marks, visit

    ·Secure domain names to safeguard your brand.

    ·Ensure any designs, trade marks and patents you register or apply for are the same as those you intend to market.

    ·Use a Creative Commons licence if you want to control and share your IP. You can choose to allow reproductions of your work but not for commercial purposes or other methods of use, so some rights are reserved instead of all. Visit for more information.


    ·Agree terms and get everything in writing. When approaching manufacturers you should strive to get various agreements in place, such as a confidentiality agreement, prototype agreement (whereby the factory agrees to make a sample to your specifications), heads of agreement and manufacturing agreement.

    ·Catalogue everything that you have. Keep good records, including your sketches, notes, drafts, diagrams, contracts, letters and e-mail communications. Strive to keep all work in progress and a ‘design’ or working story.


    ·Inform people that you have a registered design or trademark to increase your credibility and make people aware of your rights. For example, you should put your design rights number on any packaging and R if you have a registered trade mark.

    ·Maximise returns by licensing your rights either as a whole or separately to exploit your IP in different territories or different forms. – this way you hold onto your rights whilst making money from them.

    ·Charge an assignment fee if the client wants the rights, always seek external advice before assignment, re: fee and appropriateness of this decision.

    ·Licence your IP (either exclusively or non-exclusively). You can licence your rights exclusively to the licensee only, or non-exclusively to the licensee and anyone else you choose to licence to. You can licence reproduction or distribution rights, rental or lending rights. Consider what you are licensing (eg. Your trademark, copyright, design rights) in what format (exclusively or non-exclusively) and how long for (eg are the terms of the licence for a fixed term, perpetual or terminal) and finally, where in the world you are licensing to?


    Even the big boys can experience problems enforcing their IP. DVD piracy costs the film industry hugely, just as illegal music downloading costs the music industry. So how can you enforce your IP effectively?

    ·Monitor what competitors and new entrants to your market are doing. Get news alerts, subscribe to industry news, keep an eye on the site and pay attention to new trade marks being advertised. If any infringe yours you are able to contest them once they’ve been advertised.

    ·Send standard cease and desist letters if you find anyone infringing your IP rights. A lawyer can help draw up an effective letter to send out and advise you on the best course of action.

    ·Figure out whether you require royalties, licence fees or both. (Royalty payments generally vary between 4 and 14%, dependent on the type of creative work/industry).

    ·Negotiate fair terms. This is the period where you spend time bargaining to work out a deal. Next comes the contracting part, which involves formulating the details to create a binding agreement.

    ·Make sure you are given equitable renumeration for your work. For example if you produce sound recordings, you should be paid royalties by the MCPS PRS alliance. And, if you have written a book, you should receive lending royalties as well as royalties from your publisher.


    Here’s a bunch of useful resources to help you stay on top of your IP and maximise its value.

    Own It’s free services range from basic IP information to advanced legal support for London’s creative businesses, through online resources and specialist seminars, contracts, workshops, and, free IP clinics for one-to-one advice from IP lawyers. All of this is provided free of charge by experts who’ve been there and done it. Forthcoming free events include ‘Valuing IP’ on May 24th 2006. See

    The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society Limited (ALCS) is the UK rights management society for writers.

    Provides information and advice on copyright issues, plus patents, registered designs and trade mark info.

    The Creators' Rights Alliance brings together the major organisations representing copyright creators and content providers throughout the media -- particularly, television, radio and the press.

    Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS)

    Of particular interest for inventors and product/industrial designers, Ideas21 is network devoted to invention and innovation, and is supported by government, industry and private organisations.

    Institute of Patentees & Inventors

    Royalties Reunited. If you're a session musician, recording artist or backing vocalist, Royalties Reunited is the place for you to find out if you are owed money - and claim it. Registration is completely free.

Cheryl Rickman is author of The Small Business Start-up Workbook (, runs her own business - and edits intellectual property resource


Article Submitted On: April 18, 2006