I am considering selling my business at some point in the future. How can I ensure that my branding and intellectual property is secure?
Intellectual property (IP) is a term for a bundle of rights which form part of the assets of a business, but are not tangible. The main IP rights are copyright (rights protecting written words) and trade mark (names or logos distinguishing brands).
The laws relating to IP apply to smaller businesses just as much as they do to larger ones. By ensuring your branding and IP protection is securely in place, you can improve your turnover and maximise your sale price.
You probably have more IP than you think and you need to ensure that it is fully protected.
Your website is often the best way for your customers to find you. Ensure that it is updated regularly to keep it fresh and original.
The content of your site is automatically protected by copyright. If you or a member of staff wrote the contents of the site, you will own the copyright. If, however, you employed a web designer or PR specialist to do this, you may not have fully secured your title to the copyright. Make sure your contract with them includes an assignment of copyright.
Domain names are incredibly important, but often overlooked. If you are lucky enough to secure a good name, make sure it is maintained. If you registration runs out, it may be bought up by someone else. Don't just rely on your IT or web consultant to maintain registration - find out when it is due for renewal and ensure that your consultants hit the deadlines!
Have you considered registering your trade mark? Registration gives you an excellent level of protection, ensuring that your competitors do not trade using your brand. Registering a trade mark gives UK-wide protection - especially useful if various parts of your business are located in different parts of the country.
The registration process can be quite complex, so obtaining specialist advice is a good idea. Getting good advice will ensure that you have the best chance of securing registration of your mark.
Protecting Your Brand
Your brand is only secure for as long as you are prepared to enforce your rights. Keep an eye on the market. If competitors are using copyrighted material from your website, implying that they are associated with your business in a way that damages you or are using a deceptively similar trademark, you may need to take action to protect your rights. Take advice early in the event of a dispute to prevent problems later on.
If you are considering rebranding, you must plan it carefully.
Can you get the domain name you need? Consider retaining your existing domain name and redirecting the traffic in order to catch any customers looking for your previous site.
Will your new brand or name infringe anyone else's trade mark? You can check the Trade Mark Register at www.ipo.gov.uk
Have you changed your marketing material? Make sure that you change any telephone directory or trade site listings as well.
Make sure you retain as much goodwill as possible from your old brand. Tell people about the brand change, so that they know it is the same great service, just under a different name.
Consider registering your trade mark
Ensure your domain name is protected and keep an eye on its registration
Know your market. If the competition are infringing your IP or damaging your brand, do something about it.
If you are trading through a company and are using a different trading name to your company name, you need to make sure that you comply with the regulation on trading names. You need to put your full company name, registration number and registered office address, along with your VAT number (if you have one) on all your invoices, receipts, correspondence and website. If you do not, you may be liable for a fine.
This article is provided for general information only. Please do not make any decision on the basis of this article alone without taking specific advice from us. stevensdrake will only be responsible for the advice we give which is specific to you.