How can IP help you?
Many businesses and individuals have never thought about IP and what it can do for them, and in many cases there is a general feeling that exploiting IP is too expensive or time-consuming to yield any return. In most cases this is not true, and proper exploitation of your IP can add value to your business, generate revenue streams and give you a competitive advantage in negotiations.
Securing a Monopoly
As explained in What is Intellectual Property?, rights in intellectual property allow the owner (and, in some cases, their licensees) to prevent unauthorised use of the protected IP. Thus, if a patent protects a product, infringement of that patent by, for example, making or selling that product can be prevented. If a brand name is registered as a trade mark, then infringement of that registration by applying an identical or similar brand name to products can be prevented.
It will be appreciated that intellectual property has obvious commercial benefits in enabling a monopoly to be maintained in a particular area of business to the exclusion of your competitors.
Alternatively, it may be necessary or advisable to join forces with other parties to help exploit the protected area of business. Intellectual property rights can allow this to be achieved through licensing of those parties to exploit the area of business in conjunction with, or to the exclusion of the owner, upon payment of a royalty or lump sum or on other mutually acceptable basis. Thus if there is a big market to exploit which you cannot, or do not wish to, exploit yourself, one or more licensees can be appointed who can exploit or assist in the exploitation of the area and you can receive a royalty on the income in respect of that exploitation from your licensees.
As a further alternative, it may be desirable or advisable to simply sell the intellectual property which you have obtained for an appropriate price. This is possible since the rights can be assigned (ownership transferred) to other parties. Thus for example, when you have developed an invention in an area in which you have no commercial interest, you may wish to consider selling that invention to another party which does operate in that area as an alternative to licensing the party to exploit the invention.
In summary therefore, intellectual property can be used to prevent competition from getting too close to your activities and can also derive income for you through exploitation by licensing or sale of those rights.
Watching the market
The existence of intellectual property also provides a useful tool for monitoring the activities of competitors. Published patent applications, registered designs and applications for registration of a trade mark can indicate the technical and commercial direction which a competitor is taking, or thinking of taking. For example, published patent applications contain technical information relating to inventions and can indicate the area of technology currently of interest to the applicant or proprietor. An application for a new trade mark may indicate a new line of business or change of corporate identity for a company.
All of this material is available for public inspection and can be a valuable source of commercial information unavailable elsewhere.
Indirect benefits of generating and protecting your IP
There are many other benefits of protecting IP, which may not be immediately obvious. For example, in some countries there are tax breaks and reduced taxation on profits attributed to products sold that are covered by registered intellectual property rights, which can directly increase the profits your business can generate. Often the cost of securing these registered IP rights is very small in comparison to gains made by the lower tax rate.
For some businesses, the publication of a registered IP right is important in showing investors that a business has IP capital which it can draw on, and investors are more likely to want to invest in a company that can show it can protect its revenue streams through IP enforcement. Registered IP rights can also be used as an indicator to shareholders that their share-holdings are being properly protected through proper protection of new product developments.
In the case of academics, R&D teams, designers and businesses wanting to show that their technology is at the cutting edge of progress, patent applications, granted patents, and registered designs are a powerful indication that their work is cutting edge, and they can be used as references in the same way as any other publication.