The last twenty or so years have seen a fundamental shift in the way in which businesses operate. With the impact that technology has had on the workplace, it’s now almost impossible to imagine the modern office without access to a-mail, letters being typed on PCs rather than word processors or typewriters and high-speed broadband allowing us to work on virtual networks rather than in one location.
All of this technology enables the average business to produce, use, store and get information to the public or its clients much more quickly and easily. It’s now probably more true than ever (if a vast over-simplification) that all you really need to get started in business is a PC, a mobile phone and ambition.
Unless you are that lone entrepreneur, the information that a business produces and stores can be contributed to and will almost certainly need to be accessed by your staff, the vast majority of whom will have PCs of their own and be generating their own content or accessing information belonging to third parties on a daily basis.
So what’s the problem?
Virtually every part of your business is impacted upon in some way by Intellectual Property Law. If your business has been using a name and generating goodwill under a brand, it can be protected by passing-off. If that name acts as “a badge of origin”, then it can be protected by a Trade Mark. If you have lists of customers and business plans, they can be confidential and protected from misuseIf you create an invention, it may be able to be protected by a Patent.
You get the idea. Virtually every business activity creates some form of Intellectual Property Right (“IPR”). IPRs are now more valuable than ever and can make up a huge part of the value of any business as and when it comes to be sold or finance raised.
A lender to, investor in or buyer of your business would look very carefully at how much of your business hinges on IPR – if it is not adequately protected then the value placed on your business could be much lower that what you thought. So it’s best to take time out regularly to assess the IPR being developed.Do speak to your professional advisors to help you decide what is a ‘must’ to protect before running the risk of dissipating all that time and effort in having grown your business.
Also, like any aspect of business, the creation and use of IPRs is not without risk. More than ever, staff use social networks and the number of claims in the Employment Tribunal dealing with confidential information or libellous comments posted by current or former employees is on the rise. Confidential information is removed from servers by employees when they leave. Company websites are “scraped” or their contents copied wholesale. E-Mail lists containing personal information make it into the public domain. Competitors purchase domain names which are similar to yours. Staff create documents which contain material copied from third parties.
The list goes on. The point is that technology does make it much easier to create content which can lead to the creation of IPRs, but it also makes it much easier for them to come under threat of misuse or infringement. Taking a serious look at your business’ intangible assets not only protects your position, but helps prepare your exit strategy and can add value where you may never have thought it existed. Technology brings freedom, but the price of that freedom is, as always, eternal vigilance.