Inventory Your Intellectual Assets from 2013
The start of a new year is a natural time to plan for the future. It is an equally good time to reflect back on the past year’s accomplishments. Only by doing both can you appreciate success, recognize accomplishments and plan for improvements. While this is true for many, if not all, aspects of your business, this article focuses on the intellectual property assets of your company, as these assets are a natural subject of reflection and can be the bedrock of financial growth and success.
Thinking back over the past year, or several years, what has worked for your company? Chances are most of these success stories relate to your intellectual property capital. Have you increased sales by targeting your marketing campaigns? Trademark protection may help ensure that your marketing continues to be effective and impactful. Have you attracted more customers by offering better products? Patent protection may prevent other companies from stealing your ideas and increasing competition. Have you streamlined processes to reduce overhead? Trade secret protection may protect the value of your investment in establishing these improved processes. The list of successes can go on and on. What is important at this point is to identify those items that add value to your business.
Pay It Forward
After identifying all the things that have worked in the past, determine what the future holds. Does your business’s strategic plan for the next several years continue with the successes of the past? Or will the company be experimenting with new ideas in the future? Predict where the future value of your business lies and identify those places.
Having identified the areas that bring value to your business, you are now ready to determine which of these are protectable intellectual properties. Generally, these can be sorted into four categories: trademarks, patents, copyrights and trade secrets. Items such as logos, colors, or even sounds associated with your company may often be protected as trademarks, provided they are distinctive to only your company’s products and services. New and useful product designs, software, and processes may be protected by obtaining patent rights. Unique, creative expressions such as images and text can be protected by registered copyrights. Items providing value to your business and not readily known to others may be protected as trade secrets.
Provided your business does not have an unlimited intellectual property budget, you may wish to prioritize which items of intellectual property should be protected first. Those items that have reliably brought success to your company in the past, and which you plan to continue using, should rise to the top of the list of assets to consider protecting. Additionally, those items that you are currently investing in or planning to grow your business around in the future should also be near the top of the list. Another factor to consider when determining the relative importance of intellectual property is the impact to your bottom line should you lose those rights or competitors were to acquire them.
Many businesses search for ways to increase profitability. Time and resources can be spent on marketing, building a better product, training employees, and countless other efforts. Certainly, much of this activity is time (and money) well spent. But identifying and protecting intellectual property may provide a foundation that makes everything else go a little more smoothly.
This week, set aside just one hour to look both forward and backward to identify what makes your business special. Then map out a plan to protect your overlooked intellectual property assets.
Kelly G. Swartz is an intellectual property attorney practicing with Ingenuity Law in Melbourne, Fla. Her practice focuses on patent, trademark, copyright, and trade secret law.