Trademarks, branding and other intellectual property such as the content of your website are all assets worth protecting, as they add to the overall value of your business, says solicitor Emma Ladd.
I am considering selling my business. How can I ensure that my branding and intellectual property are secure?
Intellectual property (IP) is a term for a bundle of rights that form part of the assets of a business, but are not tangible. The main IP rights are copyright (rights protecting written words) and trademark (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.
Websites/domain name The content of your website 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 should 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 your registration runs out, it might be bought by someone else. Don't rely on your IT or web consultant to maintain registration.
Trademarks Have you considered registering your trademark? Registration gives you an excellent level of protection, ensuring that your competitors do not trade using your brand. Registering a trademark 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.
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 if they are using a deceptively similar trademark, you might need to take action to protect your rights. Take advice early in the event of a dispute to prevent problems later on.
Rebranding 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 trademark? You can check the trademark 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 trademark.
- 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 from 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 websites. If you do not, you can be liable for a fine.
Emma Ladd, business law associate, Stevensdrake