For a small business owner, it can be daunting to comprehend what exactly is worth protecting, and how to go about this may seem complicated. For this reason, the majority of business owners often forget that their intellectual property (“IP”) is a big asset that also deserves protection.

IP refers to “a creation of intellect” – basically the ownership of an idea or something intangible. Unlike the tangible assets of your business, IP is a collection of ideas and concepts and can exist in various forms; a new invention, brand, design, or artistic creation. This term, however, is often only associated with works of art, IT or inventions and the normal person on the street will thus only relate it to big businesses, IT developers, artists, writers, or inventors.

IP is an important asset in today’s so-called knowledge economy and should be strategically managed by business owners. In a business, IP can include the company name, logo, slogan, website and advertising, and most importantly the exclusive rights to original work/products created by the company, i.e. designs, codes, formulas and trade secrets.

Why is IP relevant to your business?
When you started your business, you thought of an idea that would distinguish you from the business around the corner and that is the key to your success – so why won’t you want to protect it?

No business owner would want the competition to duplicate your business’ branding, or name or logo. All of this information, including your business’ processes, which ensure cutting edge service and products and more efficient methods of operation, are know-how that you developed and which are of value to the business.

Not only can the protected IP generate an income for your business through the licensing, sale, or commercialisation of the products or services, it will enhance the value or worth of your business in the eyes of investors and financing institutions.

IP affords the owner thereof similar proprietary rights as any other form of assets of a business, whether moveable or immovable. By registering a patent or trademark on your idea/brand or just ensuring it is copyright protected, it will protect you from the competition that may want to copy it and use it for their own profit, or even worse, dilute or damage the positive selling power of the brand.

How to protect your IP
Before your business can take advantage of IP assets, it has to acquire IP rights. There are three ways to protect intellectual property: through the use patents, trademarks or copyrights. A patent applies to a specific product design; a trademark to a name, phrase or symbol; and a copyright to a written document.

A trademark is registered by filing an application at the Department of Trade and Industry – you can instruct an attorney to assist you with identifying the intellectual property elements of your business and where appropriate, commence with the registration process to protect these elements. Upon successful registration, the trademark is indefinitely protected, subject to a renewal fee payable every ten years. A similar process can be followed for the registration of patents and other forms of intellectual property.

Once this registration is complete, the owner of the IP rights has access to various remedies if, and when, the rights are infringed upon.

It is further imperative to have proper contracts with all your employees, suppliers, contractors and stakeholders to ensure protection of your IP.

The same way you have insurance to protect your business’ movable and immovable assets, the registration of your intellectual property can be seen as the insurance for your brand or your business ideas.

This may be the last thing that small business owners think off or spend money on, but if left to chance, it could cause far more financial damage than the cost of protecting these rights – it certainly justifies the effort in obtaining further advice.

Article by Arinda Truter – Schoemanlaw Inc.