When companies talk about investing in their assets, they tend to focus on their tangibles such as building, vehicles, equipment and machinery. What may come as a shock is the very neglected worth of intangible assets such as the business’ name, logo, designs and even creative and intellectual efforts. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), these “creations of the mind” are your Intellectual Property (IP) and covers inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.
As a country, it is vital to promote and protect IP as the creation and invention of new works promote and encourages innovation which spurs economic growth, creates new jobs and industries and enhances the quality of life. This innovation is evident in many European countries such as Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands who have consistently captured high rankings in the world’s most innovative country index by WIPO. Their efficient and equitable IP systems are a perfect example of striking a balance between the interests of innovators and public interest while providing an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish for the benefit of all.
In Trinidad and Tobago, synergistic IP relationships such as these are developing between the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs- Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI) with initiatives such as the free monthly Intellectual Property Clinic where persons can make appointments to have one-on-one confidential meeting with an experienced IP Officer to discuss their idea or product and how to protect their IP.
As a business owner, you should ask, “What type of Intellectual Property can my business use to safeguard myself from complications such as copyright piracy; trademark counterfeiting and patent infringement which have become significant problems in the business community?”
Copyright covers literary works (such as novels, poems and plays), films, music, artistic works (e.g. drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures) and architectural design. Rights related to copyright include those of performing artists in their performances, producers of phonograms in their recordings and broadcasters in their radio and television programs
Industrial Property includes patents for inventions, trademarks, industrial designs, geographical indications, new plant varieties and trade secrets. Patents are a monopoly granted by the Government to an inventor for a particular invention, giving him sole rights to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention. Some unique patents that we use in our daily lives include post-its, bubble wrap, modern pencil with eraser and the bendable straw.
Establishing a strong brand is pivotal to business success. Protecting that brand is equally as important. Thus far, many small businesses overlook a critical first step in securing their brand: Trademarks. As a general rule, if your business name will be a large part of your marketing, you should consider trademarking it. Most persons are familiar with trademarks from the famous Nike “swoosh” and Apple logo to names such as Google and even our local KC Candy, Angostura and Caribbean Airlines.
Geographical indicators are products that are associated with specific regions which are renowned and trusted for their quality and authenticity. The most prominent example of geographic indicators is Champagne, the wine, which is named after the region where it is grown, fermented and bottled: Champagne, France. According to European Law, these are the only labels that are legally allowed to bear the name “Champagne”. It would be of great National pride as a country if we were awarded a geographical indicator for the Moruga Scorpion Pepper or even the Gran Couva Chocolate.
Industrial Design is the protection of the ornamental aspect of an object such as the famous Coca- Cola curvy bottle, Mini Cooper, Kitchen Aid mixers and locally the Chubby bottle. The last type of IP is Trade Secrets and speaks to any confidential business information which provides an enterprise with a competitive edge. The most common examples are Kentucky Fried Chickens secret herb and spice blend, Coca-Cola formulation, Listerine and even our very own Angostura Bitters.
As the saying goes, “All great ideas are at risk of being stolen” and to prevent this, companies should seek protection at the earliest stage. Even large conglomerates can be challenged with IP issues as evidenced by the on-going disputes between Apple and Samsung with their smartphone design.
You might be thinking, “I’m a sole proprietor or a small business owner, and I don’t have any IP to protect.” You couldn’t be more wrong. A name or brand conveys all the “goodwill” of your product or service. Goodwill is a term used in accountancy and law. It is an intangible asset of a business; and can include product development and design, employees and their skill sets, the brand name and logo recognition, customer lists, and relationships.
IP protects more than just an idea or a concept- it protects genuine business assets that may be integral to the core services of your business and overall long-term viability. As a business owner, securing your IP can protect you against those who seek to wrongfully make, sell or import your product or service without your permission.
A novel and attractive product can be reproduced and commercialized as an imitation or counterfeit of the original product. For those exporting, perhaps the most dangerous mistake is to realize the importance of IP too late, i.e. the product has already been copied, or you are unknowingly infringing on another company’s IP which can lead to legal ramifications. IP protection helps deter counterfeiters and may even stop that counterfeited product at the border through useful customs legal actions based on those original IP rights
All businesses regardless of size have undoubtedly utilized online platforms such as Facebook, Amazon or other e-commerce platforms to buy or sell products. While the internet is ideal for reaching vast audiences at relatively low costs, this increases the probability of IP theft and having your unique ideas, products or services infringed upon, even from the other side of the world!
IP protection can be used as a competitive advantage and act as a differentiator between your brands and others. Without protection, your competitors can easily use your success to take away market share, resulting in slow growth and loss of revenue. Loss of market share in the early stages of business development can be devastating and time-consuming if you are trying to chase guilty parties involved.
Proper IP as a business not only safeguards you from legal woes but can also be a revenue stream for your organization. Companies can earn revenue by using their IP to create a product then selling it themselves (business creation); licensing it for a one-time fee or royalties and lastly, selling full ownership to a third party if the idea is risky or capital intensive.
The bottom line is – protecting your intellectual property rights is protecting your business. Of course, the type of business you own will determine what your needs regarding IP protection are, whether it be a patent, trademark, copyright, trade secret, etc. The name of your company and its logo are part of the branding that sets your business apart. Protecting that is as important as protecting your cash register, so you must be vigilant to protect your IP rights.
For more information on CARIRI’s services or to book an appointment for the free IP Clinic contact us at 299-0210 ext. 5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org or check our website at www.cariri.com