Over the years I have known dozens of lawyers and IP attorneys. No, I’m not prone to trouble. If you choose intellectual property and publishing as your dual careers, you’ll get to meet a lot of lawyers and IP professionals – I’ve known old ones, new ones, kind ones, cynical ones, humble ones, and a handful who believed their mother’s high praise.
But of all the lawyers and patent and trademark attorneys I’ve known, as yet not one has confessed to having psychic abilities, which is a shame because of the hundreds of business leaders I’ve met, I do get the impression they are crossing their fingers the legal industry is chock full of clairvoyants.
Dodging a bullet
I say this because wearing my intellectual property strategist hat, I often see a lack of action in areas that really are standard business protocol. For instance, it always comes as a shock when fairly sophisticated businesses do not use legal agreements, such as when securing the services of sub-contractors, product developers, and suppliers.
Generally, when I’ve asked why there is a lack of contracts in use (usually because I am conducting an IP audit), the top answer is that lawyers are expensive. Be that as it may, the rule of thumb is any disaster a lawyer can prevent is money saved, not money spent.
But furthermore, a properly drafted legal agreement will be designed to ensure your business has clear title to the valuable IP the third party is creating. So not only does working closely with your lawyer mean they can help you dodge bullets, he or she can also help you grow value in your business. (Click here to learn about ‘Dirty’ IP.)
Of course, IP lawyers are essential if your intellectual property has been infringed by another party. But unlike journos huddling around the police radio in the newsroom, there is no way for your lawyer to know you need help with enforcing your IP rights unless you make contact.
The Naked Trademark
And talking about intellectual property, every business has a name, and almost all have logos, making trademarks the most common form of IP. Yet it amazes me how often these are poorly protected or entirely unprotected. To explain, let’s look at four typical trademarks that your own business probably has:
- the actual name of your company (let’s take the word “Apple” as an example)
- the way it is depicted in marketing material, which is often the word in combination with a logo (now think of Apple and the ‘apple’ logo, which has morphed from the iconic rainbow version to the sleek silhouette)
- the logo itself, which can sometimes be used on its own (so just the apple logo, which we would all immediately recognise as part of the Apple brand)
- variations of the trademark that result in a new trademark (such as AppleCare), or entirely distinct product or service names (such as GeniusBar).
So what’s the problem?
Well, here’s where I ask you a question in reply: how many of the four types have you protected as registered trademarks? Unless you have shared these with your trademark attorney they won’t have any idea that you have trademarks to protect.
And the same applies to patentable material and industrial designs, which should not be publicised, marketed or sold publicly prior to filing for protection or you risk being ineligible for formal registration. It is absolutely essential that you communicate with your patent attorney as early as possible and share your business plans, including the countries you wish to manufacture and sell your product in, so they can create a fully-fledged protection strategy for you.
Of course, this won’t come for free. Patent and trademark attorneys have families to raise and other overheads, but as with your lawyer, the benefits of their work on your behalf can be at least twofold: providing protection and growing value.
Legal and IP protection fees are part of the cost of doing business but they can also vastly change the fortunes of your business. However, your lawyer and patent and trademark attorney are unlikely to be fortune tellers, so do be in touch and discuss your plans as early and as fully as possible.
To learn more about the valuable intellectual property in your business and how you can protect and optimise it, here are two handy online IP training courses – one for business leaders, and the other for managers and executives.