Start-up & SME

Business Structure and Intellectual Property

6 th March 2018

Legal and IP advice should be prioritised in any business, heard the Start-up & SME Club.

The latest Start-up & SME Club welcomed two guest speakers, Jon Snade, Partner, Browne Jacobson and Andrew Hilton, UK and European Patent Attorney, Haseltine Lake LLP, to speak about legal issues and support available to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The session was co-chaired by Sébastien Goldenberg, CEO and Co-Founder, TheHouseShop.com, and Jeanne Monchovet, Founder and Principal Consultant of Olystix.

The legal overview

Jon Snade, Partner at Browne Jacobson, outlined some of the key areas where new and small businesses may benefit – or indeed require –legal input and support. They include shareholder agreements and articles of associations, official company records (Company House), and hiring and firing staff. They also include customer and supplier contracts, website terms and conditions, and selling your business or raising investment.

Snade advised that legal help is important to consider for any business, as it can potentially save costs, decrease risks and limit distractions from running your business.

However small businesses face many barriers to legal help including being able to prioritising or budget for legal spend, knowing when to call a lawyer, and knowing where to go for help. Many businesses also face strict time pressures in terms of need legal advice or assistance.

Snade advised the Club that when considering initial help, businesses should consider asking lawyers or law firms if they do free initial consultations, where issues could be discussed before they require immediate intervention. Furthermore there are many other forums in which businesses can seek informal advice, for example the London Open Coffee meet ups.

For some legal services, there are free template documents available online, including founders agreements, advisor agreements, IP assignments and fundraising term sheets. Two such providers are seedsummit.org and lawdepot.co.uk.

Browne Jacobson’s ‘Grow’ programme is tailored to helping small businesses in the development. They offer an advisor, use of client meeting rooms, and training to potential clients. They also offer fixed fees, which can help small businesses effectively budget for their legal spend.

Intellectual Property

Andrew Hilton, patent attorney at Haseltine Lake, gave an overview of intellectual property (IP) and how it can be used to protect innovation and creativity within a business.

In basic terms, intellectual property can protect technical inventions, aesthetic creations and brand identity. Intellectual property can be a significant asset to any business, as it provides exclusive rights to the holder and allows you to own the things you create, similar to owning physical property.

IP falls into four main categories:

Patents protect technical innovations and the way something works. For example, patents can protect physical devices, from jet engines to bottle openers, as well as processes, such as assembly methods and control strategies.

Designs protect the appearance of a product, i.e. the way something looks as a result of its contours, colours, shapes, materials or its ornamentation. Designs cover a broad range of products, and can be used to protect the appearance of a vehicle, the design of packaging, the layout of a webpage, or the cut of a garment, for example.

Trademarks are signs used in trade to identify products. Trademarks serve to distinguish goods and services within a marketplace to define brand identity, and can include words, logos, colours and sounds.

Unregistered rights include: ‘copyright’ of material, such as literature, art, music or film; ‘database rights’, such as the content and structure of databases; ‘know how,’ such as the value of technical knowledge and skills; and ‘trade secrets,’ such as business practices/ideas that would have value.

« Intellectual property can be a significant asset to any business, as it provides exclusive rights to the holder and allows you to own the things you create. »

Hilton advised businesses that are interested in protecting their innovation to consult a patent attorney as early as possible, to help understand the IP process, and the associated time and cost constraints. Moreover, Hilton strongly advised businesses to seek protection for their intellectual property before public disclosure of the product or concept, since this can lead to problems down the line in obtaining valid IP.

This article was originally published in INFO magazine, March/April 2018

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