Insurance 12 December 2017

Enhancing your exporting opportunities through intellectual property

Around 1.5m small UK firms are thought to be trading internationally
Around 1.5m small UK firms are believed to be trading internationally

To help small business owners capitalise on new exporting opportunities in emerging markets, Matthew Shaw, equity partner at Forresters, explains how to safeguard products and services from intellectual property infringement overseas.

The tumultuous events of the last two years have seen significant shifts in economic and political landscapes. The recent Autumn Budget saw predictions for the UK economy revised, as Britain moves to separate itself from the European Union.

This challenging business environment is also shackled by announcements that households will face the longest squeeze on their income in over half a century, with real average earnings in Britain not returning to their 2008 peak, until 2025. With the current political and economic uncertainty, small UK business owners may now seek to capitalise on the growth and expansion of new markets across the world to secure a noticeable increase in business.

According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) Britain’s small business owners could together reap £141.3bn a year in overseas sales through entering new markets.

However, there is a lot to take into account when trading internationally. For businesses expanding into new markets, there are lots of different rules and regulations that can apply and trip up companies, hindering success.

While there are a whole host of protocols companies need to familiarise themselves with, one thing that is critical to ensuring success in foreign markets is intellectual property (IP) rights.

In today’s borderless and connected world, the chance of ideas being stolen and replicated is much greater. Without safeguards like IP in place, businesses become very vulnerable to international competition, with rivals being able to replicate and sell the product or service at a lower price without incurring any research and development costs. This can cause a significant loss in market share and sales for businesses.

To ensure you understand what protection your products and services require and why, here are some crucial steps to help shield your business against this potentially damaging IP infringement.

Creating your exporting strategy

Any successful exporting operation starts with a strong export plan, which outlines the markets your business is targeting, the estimated demand and so on. Within this plan, IP should be considered throughout, as it plays a key role in a number of areas.

For instance, if your company will need to secure investment to begin its exporting mission then holding patents, design registrations and trade mark rights is a way to enhance your competitiveness and convince investors that your product or service could be a success abroad.

Intellectual property audit

The world contains millions of products and services, each with their own innovations and unique selling points. Therefore, when considering whether to export it’s important to conduct any third-party IP audit.

First, start with your own business: Are your assets protected and are those rights being maintained? Then, it’s important to check whether the product could be infringing any third-party IP rights in your target export markets.

For this, we would recommend seeking the help from a local IP attorney who will help you confirm you have the right to export your product without causing any infringement, helping you avoid any costly situations for your business.

Think global, act local

If you have the IP rights for the UK, these rights do not necessarily transfer across borders. They are territorial, and only apply to the country or region they have been granted for. If you wish to seek more international IP rights, then you have to obtain these through the relevant channels.

To do this, the easiest way is to use a globallyconnected IP firm which can help you obtain the international protection your products or services require.

It’s all about the timing

Timing is very important when it comes to IP protection abroad, as there are strict deadlines for applying for your required IP.

The priority period can vary depending on the type of protection but, if you make an application for a patent or design domestically, deadlines apply for international submission of the same application.

For patents, you must apply for international rights within 12 months, which reduces to six months when it comes to a design. If that time has lapsed, then it can be too late to apply overseas.

Following these steps should put your business in a good position to not only capitalise on the export opportunities available in foreign markets, but stop you inadvertently infringing the rights of others, or foreign competitors taking advantage of your innovation.

Matthew Shaw is equity partner at IP consultancy Forresters

Our recent webinar revealed how intellectual property can unlock the potential in your business, and provided a list of action points that can put straight into practice.

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