Intellectual Property (IP) is part and parcel of business, yet it abounds with misconceptions. For example, it’s not generally appreciated that protecting IP starts by understanding how to choose effective names, address questions of brand architecture, such as after a merger, as well as to know how the various IP rights protect key aspects of products and services.
IP is about managing competition. So, making the right choice of name and other branding elements, and being able to identify how IP protects key assets, is the best way to protect a business. Yet there is a widespread belief that IP only becomes relevant when a business is successful, or that it’s a subject for lawyers.
Make it Difficult for Competitors
It’s essential to understand and reflect IP principles in how you set up and run a business.
A key focus should be to make it difficult for competitors to copy or mimic what you do. Otherwise, you could lay yourself wide open to theft and copying that the law won’t prevent. For example, it may not be immediately apparent when you choose a name that it’s unsuitable because it can’t uniquely belong to you. You may not realise that you may have less success than you might otherwise have, simply because of the name.
Learning key IP principles equips you to better structure and design a business. Choosing the name and other identifiers is part of it, because making good choices is an important way to protect a business concept.
Designers and Marketers are not Trained in IP
It happens all too frequently that even when businesses use professionals like designers and marketers for branding support, they end up with inadequate names. That happens because brand protection considerations are not reflected in the choice of name.
Designers and marketers receive no training at all in IP so they don’t know how to take brand protection into account. I only realised this when I attended Mark Ritson’s brand management course.
Nor are commercial lawyers trained in IP. Yet many business owners consult them to search and register their trade marks. The fact that commercial lawyers are not as aware as they need to be, about what constitutes a good name, means IP is often not properly reflected in business design.
The Importance of the Name
The value of a business is contained in its name, so learning the complexities surrounding names and brand architecture is a key business skill to develop whether you’re a business owner or a professional who supports them.
The branding industry tends to choose names for their clients and leaves it to them to consult lawyers for due diligence checks. But leaving the legal dimension till after a name has already been selected, means you could end up with a poor name.
Lawyers are expected to rubber stamp the name. People want their lawyer to find a way to register their chosen name. They don’t welcome advice to change the name unless there is a clear conflict with an existing trade mark.
Why Lawyers Don’t Advise on the Name
Lawyers learn not to suggest changing the name because by the time they are asked to assess the name, clients have fallen in love with the name. So, lawyers will register it as a trade mark, perhaps by combining it with a logo so it can be registered. Their brief is to register a trade mark rather than to advise on the suitability of a name. So, even though a poor name is highly damaging to a business, people often end up with inadequate names.
The choice of name has long-term implications on the fortunes of a business. The best names should be chosen with brand protection as part of the consideration set so they function as effective barriers to entry. Certain products or services need stronger names than others. So, not all names are equally effective.
I am developing a new Brand Tuned program for launch in April this year. The course will equip entrepreneurs, CEOs, brand consultants, designers, commercial lawyers, business advisers and others to plug a serious gap in their knowledge which I’ve noticed after years of supporting business owners and branding professionals.