The importance of protecting your intellectual property

New research issued by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has shown that the country’s SMEs are struggling to protect the very identity and original ideas at the epicentre of their enterprises.  Intellectual property (IP) is being jeopardised at the hands of idea poaching, brand replication and copyright infringement but it’s time small business owners took some action!

It seems small business owners today are choosing to pump their precious (and often limited) cash supply into areas such as research and business development, which means IP precautions seem to have taken a back seat. Technology is making it ever easier to access confidential records and private documents, meaning virtual thieves and oblivious offenders alike are becoming more of a prominent threat.

However, even those who do invest time and money into attaining protective IP rights are falling victim to a worrying number of violations and infringements, the new study suggests. Patents, trademarks, branding and product design are coming under fire and the FSB is calling for more to be done about it.

The facts and figures show SME IP violation is still rife

The research released from the FSB revealed that 25% of the businesses it surveyed that had intellectual property rights had suffered a case of infringement over the past five years. Nearly 30% of those that own some form of IP rights admit that they are reliant on it for 75%-100% of their revenue, with a fifth of these investing more than £5,000 in IP protection. These acts of violation, therefore, can be extremely economically and financially damaging for any vulnerable small business.

The study found that the most common forms of IP theft included product copying (50%), use of copyright work on a website (34%), use of copyright work through products and services being sold (33%) and third-party use of trademark (31%). Perhaps most surprisingly though, of the businesses that suffered infringements and cyber violations such as these, almost a third took no action, citing the costs involved and a lack of resources as some of the main reasons why.

The FSB calls for increased accessibility to IP rights for SMEs

Although the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has made a number of tools and services available to small business that help tighten IP security, the FSB is now urging it to take additional measures. The business organisation wants a simplification of and increase signposting towards the support available in a bid to encourage more SMEs to take advantage of their preventative benefits.

FSB Northern Ireland Policy Chairman, Wilfred Mitchell OBE commented on the newly released research and explained how it “reveals that many of our members gain major benefits when they do invest in protecting their intellectual property.”

He continued: “Proper protection of intellectual property is a mainstream issue which deserves a mainstream focus. The knowledge economy, which runs on innovative ideas and brands is becoming ever more critical to our economic success. Left unchecked, theft and infringement of ideas, patents and brand costs small businesses and diminishes their appetite to invest in their business, ultimately hampering the UK’s long-term economic growth.”

He also added: “Return of investment is key, particularly to the one in three small businesses which say they have secured, or plan to secure, intellectual property rights to allow them to export.

“Small businesses must be better supported in harnessing intellectual property in the UK and overseas. When infringement does occur, redress should be simple, swift and easy to obtain.”

Experts including researchers at the FSB are concerned that too many small business owners think IP protection is something that only household brands, media companies and large corporations need to worry about. However, trademarking, copyrighting, patents, design rights and non-disclosure agreements are something SMEs need to take advantage of where they can just as much, if not more than large businesses.