Innovation and enterprise blog

26 April 2021

IP and SMEs: taking your ideas to market

Guy Robinson, Divisional Director for Innovation at The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) reflects on the support available to SMEs to help them – and ultimately the UK - build back better after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Today marks the celebration of World Intellectual Property day. This year’s theme is intellectual property (IP) and how small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) take their ideas to market. 

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We are now emerging from the global Covid-19 pandemic with caution, but throughout, companies of all sizes have been focused on adapting for survival. As those firms begin to look towards recovery, it is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the important role IP plays in setting solid foundations for future growth within SMEs.

SMEs account for 99% of all UK businesses and they contribute 21% of turnover in the UK, so they are vital to the UK and the global economy.

The UK has always been a nation of innovation and entrepreneurialism, with investment in IP rights and intangible assets reaching almost £64 billion in 2016. Those businesses that rely on IP have accounted for over a quarter of UK employment and almost half of GDP.

All firms own or use some form of intellectual property. Within that I include intellectual property rights such as patents and trade marks and intangible assets such as trade secrets and knowhow. World IP Day 2021 seeks to cast a light on how SMEs can use their IP assets to build stronger, more competitive and resilient businesses in order to generate growth.

For a business to benefit from the IP they own they will first need to identify or recognise the IP assets they hold. To emphasise my earlier point, your IP might not only be formal intellectual property rights (IPR) but some other intellectual asset that forms a vital part of your business; you might consider an IP audit to reveal what IP you hold.

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Once identified, a business will need to weigh up how best to protect the intellectual assets that have been identified. This might mean putting in place formal IPR’s providing they ‘qualify’ or it might mean ensuring the confidentiality of the information held by the business. The form of protection will depend on the nature of the IP.

This step will lead to exploitation of the IP to make money from it. Perhaps the biggest challenge can be in understanding the value of the IP and the business opportunities it can create. These opportunities could include franchising, licensing, collaborating and securing investment.

It is also necessary to review the IP identified and to ensure that any new IP created is properly considered.  Discussion about your intellectual assets should form a part of the strategic narrative in your business plan.

SMEs that can identify, protect and manage their IP go on to generate value and monetise their efforts. This creates employment and enriches the market, offering consumers a broader choice of new and better products and services. We recognise that SMEs need the right support to navigate this journey. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) in the UK provides a catalogue of IP information, guidance and support to SMEs for when they most need it.

We have developed our range of free to access resources on our IP for Business website, IP Audits scheme and in addition, our package of webinars, events and practical guides. These tools are aimed at supporting businesses to recognise their IP assets, their value and how to protect them appropriately. Importantly, the tools will help businesses identify the opportunities to commercialise their IP, leading to the best possible chances for business growth.

Help is available to keep business advisors up to speed with IP, too. The IPO has developed its flagship IP Masterclass, which is now being delivered virtually in response to the pandemic, to provide business advisors with the competence and confidence to engage their clients routinely on IP and IP rights. In the last 3 years, the IPO has supported advisors to reach over 60,000 businesses, helping them to set solid foundations.

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Additionally, the IPO has established relationships with a range of business intermediaries. We have a proud and longstanding partnership with the British Library and the Business and IP Centres, who offer invaluable practical guidance and signpost information and resources. Their network supports businesses across the UK to take practical steps in recognising their IP assets, getting their products to market and reaping the financial rewards.

Our aim across all our support is to ensure that SMEs make informed decisions in respect of their IP assets and to ensure that IP is included as an integral part of business planning. IP makes life better for everyone. Making the most of IP helps SMEs to thrive and, ultimately, make a valuable contribution to helping the UK Build Back Better.

For more information on our free business tools and activities at our Intellectual Property for Business site on GOV.UK  go to http://bit.ly/IPOBusinessTools