Decoding intellectual property for small business

Have you ever wondered if your business holds any intellectual property (IP)?

3 minutes
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Have you ever wondered if your business holds any intellectual property (IP)? IP refers to creations of the mind and includes things like a brand name, logo, invention, design or artistic work, or even a new plant variety. It’s quite likely that your small business has some form of IP that could be registered and bring significant benefits. Registered IP can protect your products and services, enhance your market position and generate additional revenue streams.

In our recent podcast episode, we decoded intellectual property with a representative of IP Australia, the agency that administers registered IP. You can check out the podcast here.

Types of IP you can register:

  • Trade marks: A trade mark protects your unique brand and distinguishes your product or service. Your trade mark can be a logo, phrase, word, letter, colour, sound, smell, picture, movement, aspect of packaging or any combination of these. Registered trade mark owners have exclusive rights for 10 years and registrations can be renewed indefinitely.
  • Patents: A patent protects an invention or the way something works. This could be a device, substance, method or process, but it must be new, useful and inventive in order to be granted a patent. Patents last up to 20 years for a standard patent and up to 25 years for pharmaceutical patents.
  • Design rights: These protect the overall appearance of your new and distinctive product for up to 10 years (renew registration at 5 years). The appearance may be a combination of shape, colour, configuration pattern and ornamentation.
  • Plant breeder’s rights: A plant breeder’s right protects new plant varieties. It could be for a new variation of flower, vegetable, fruit, tree or other plants. Exclusive rights for new plant varieties last between 20 to 25 years.

To determine which IP rights apply to your business, try IP Australia’s Choosing the Right IP tool.

Benefits of IP for small businesses, including professional services

Registering your IP offers several benefits that can be especially advantageous for a small business:

  • Exclusivity: the sole right to use, produce, and sell your product or service.
  • Protection: a legal avenue to help stop others from using your IP without your permission.
  • Revenue generation: IP rights can be licensed or sold to others, creating additional revenue streams.
  • Investor appeal: IP rights demonstrate innovation and potential profitability, making your business more attractive to investors.
  • Growth potential: According to a study by IP Australia, businesses with a registered trade mark are 13% more likely to achieve high turnover growth.

The importance of checking your brand name or logo

Checking whether your brand name or logo is already registered as a trade mark can help you avoid potential costly infringements and position your business for long-term success.

You can use IP Australia’s free TM checker tool to give you an indication if there are already trade marks that might be similar to your proposed brand or name – from there you can start the application to register your trade mark.

Case in point: Liz Kaelin’s experience

Mums & Co’s very own Partnerships Manager, Liz Kaelin, experienced the challenges that can arise if you don’t check your trade mark. After she appeared on Shark Tank in 2016 to promote her small business You Chews, Liz was served with a notice to cease using her business name. Liz had inadvertently used a business name that was very similar to a competitor’s existing registered trade mark.

This led to a costly and emotional rebrand for Liz. Reflecting on her experience, she emphasised the importance of searching for existing registered trade marks.

Liz says “I  wish that TM Checker had been available back then. It would have saved me so much time, money and energy. There is so much value in searching and being aware of what already exists.”

Steps to get started with IP protection:

  • Identify your IP: Assess your business to identify potential IP assets, such as brand names, logos and inventions.
  • Seek professional advice: Consult with an IP attorney to understand the best way to protect your assets and navigate the registration process.
  • Register your IP: File applications with the relevant authorities, such as IP Australia.
  • Maintain your IP: Keep track of renewal dates and ensure ongoing protection through enforcement and monitoring of potential infringements.