Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Intellectual Property Rights - Patent

Year after year, many small and medium enterprises lose crores of rupees due to sheer misinformation or lack of awareness about intellectual property rights. In the last five years, on an average, nearly 40,000 patents have been filed every year, more than 80 per cent of them by large organisations.

The scenario is exactly the opposite in China, where more than 80 per cent of patent filings are by small enterprises. Without patent protection, a small business would not be able to compete with larger companies, which could seize upon their idea and produce it more efficiently and on a much larger scale. Yet, most revolutionary innovations have come from small businesses.

Despite the overwhelming case for early patenting, most Indian entrepreneurs shy away from applying for a patent early, for fear that the costs would be steep. They are unable to foresee that not only can it make them richer, but if done right, it could overshadow the perceivable benefits of running the business itself.
Here are some useful points to consider while assessing trademarks /copyrights / patents.

1. When is it the right time to patent your innovation?

It takes a minimum 18 months for a patent to come through. Once you have decided that your product / service is novel and are convinced that it needs to be patented, you should start the paperwork. A strong IP could make entry into the market significantly easier. It gives immediate, legally backed credibility to your product or service.

In the initial years, an IP can protect a company from competition. It is important to identify the focus of the IP for the organisation. Both product as well as process patents can be filed. A music label or a Bollywood movie would focus on copyright, whereas a technology or a pharmaceutical company should focus on patenting their products.

2. Do your homework, get down to basics
You have an idea, pick a brand name, go ahead with purchasing a domain, set up social media platform and the works. But someone out there has been watching your actions and files a trademark infringement. This is every entrepreneur's nightmare, and one of the primary reasons they hesitate to go ahead with IP protection. It is always important to do a full background check first. It is good to document the activities of competing brands. It is also a good idea to get a professional opinion that would help validate your research. It is also important to research international markets where competition is strong.

3. Invest in a non-disclosure agreement
Initially, companies may choose to work with vendors that are not employees or consultants of the company. To ensure that all confidential information stays within the company, make sure your employment agreements, licences, sales contracts and other contracts protect your intellectual property too, right from the word go.

4. Keep track internally and externally
It is advisable to keep an eye on your competitors' IP development, to assess the market for competition. At the very least, owners should establish an appropriate level of proactive monitoring of trademark registration applications. For example, technology companies like Google will track every competitor like Yahoo, Facebook, Amazon and Ebay. Similarly, FMCG companies like HUL will closely monitor the activities of Proctor & Gamble etc.
Also, patent procedures can be different for different countries. It is better not to limit yourself to your own market but also observe the competition outside. Sometimes, it is easier to get a patent registered in a foreign market than in India.

5. Finally, you cannot escape the bill but the cost is worth every penny
Ask the right questions to understand all the less obvious costs included in filing for patents. Administrative costs of printing, courier, etc will be part of your final legal fees, and these small costs can add up. When international filings take place, be sure that there will be additional fees.
As they say, no pain, no gain. Investing time, effort and money in patenting your innovation could save you a lot of pain in the long run. And the benefits go beyond protecting your intellectual property.