This article has been reproduced with kind permission of Devon Life magazine.
The Devon Life Food & Drink Awards showcase the best of the region’s food and drink industry.
But if you operate a business in the food and drink sector, how well do you score when it comes to understanding and protecting your intellectual property (IP) rights? Do you register your brands as trade marks? Do you seek patent protection, or enter into confidentiality agreements, in order to prevent competitors from copying your innovative processes? What procedures do you have in place to stop ex-employees running off with your commercially sensitive business information or setting up in competition? Do you ensure that any IP rights created by your website designers and advertising agents are transferred to you?
Last year Ashfords conducted an IP awareness survey amongst South West businesses in the food and drink sector and found:
- Many had not registered their products' brand names as registered trade marks, thus making it difficult to prevent others from using the same or confusingly similar brand names.
- Many did not carry out any pre-use checks (such as a trade mark clearance search) to make sure no-one else could prevent them using their new brand name/logo.
- The majority thought that the sign "TM" meant that a mark is a registered trade mark (when that is not the case).
- A sizeable number thought that if you register your name at Companies House then no-one else can stop you using your name in trade - this is not true.
- Only one respondent said that they imposed restrictions on their employees, to prevent them setting up in competition after they left the business.
- Only half used confidentiality agreements when entering into discussions with third parties where sensitive business information would be disclosed.
There are many ways that businesses can improve their awareness of IP issues. Why not assign responsibility to a particular director or employee for managing IP rights issues in your business? Educate them and get them to train the rest of the business about IP rights and how to obtain, protect and enforce them. Consider adopting internal IP policies and procedures, to make sure that IP protection is at the forefront of people's minds and is captured and protected at the point of creation, rather than an afterthought.
When you next tuck into some lovely local produce, or down a glass of local ale, ask yourself this: do you know what IP rights exist in those goods? Does the manufacturer? What have they done to secure them? You may create fantastic local produce with a catchy brand, but if you don't secure your IP rights then you won't be able to stop others taking unfair advantage of your hard work and investment.