Following last week’s guidance on how to get your new business legally ready, this week we look at some ways to protect your business and potentially increase its value.
Every start-up will have some intellectual property (IP) which is valuable. Whether it’s your business name, logo or the product you are selling, it is important your IP is protected. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Google is your friend: before you spend money, and time, developing your brand, website or products, search online to ensure sure you are not inadvertently using any IP that is already in use. This will hopefully prevent any expensive re-branding exercises or infringement issues in the future.
- Identification and registration: review what IP you already have, and what you are creating, to understand what you need to protect; then consider what you can register. Registering your business name and logo will help prevent others from using your IP. And think about whether you need protection beyond the UK.
- Protect unregistered rights: some IP rights arise automatically and it can be easy to overlook your unregistered rights. For example, copyright and unregistered design rights exist automatically and can be valuable business assets. On the other hand, it can be difficult to prove ownership, so we would suggest documenting the creation of these sorts of unregistered IP rights – it could come in useful in the future.
- Keep it confidential: be careful not to give too much away when discussing new ideas, services and products. Think about using confidentiality agreements if you are pitching your ideas to third parties.
- Avoid infringements: finally, don’t use or copy other people’s IP; the reputational damage and financial loss you can suffer as a result is likely to outweigh any upside. There are various options if you need to use someone else’s IP: ask their permission, get a licence to use the IP or purchase it outright.
UK data protection laws apply to any business that collects, records or uses personal data. The fines for non-compliance can be quite severe, so it is important to follow the rules. We would suggest you do the following:
- Work out what you have: firstly, identify what data it is that you hold – this can be a general grouping of the data you collect and use e.g. “names and addresses of customers” or “phone numbers of suppliers”.
- How and why: then keep track of how and why you collect the relevant personal data. This may be as simple as using a customer’s address to deliver an order. Personal data can only be lawfully collected on one of six grounds: consent, contract, legal obligation, vital interest, public task and legitimate interest. It is useful to understand which of these is most applicable to your business and why.
- Register with the ICO: most businesses will need to register as a data controller with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and pay a fee to do so. There are some exceptions – you can use the self-assessment toolkit on the ICO website to determine whether you need to register and what fee to pay.
- Educate yourself and your staff: lastly, make sure you and your staff know what to do if a customer or supplier asks you to amend, delete or access the personal information you hold about them. There are strict deadlines for responding to such requests. You and your staff also need to know what to do if there is a personal data breach – for example, if you lose or accidentally publish a customer’s personal data.
Next week, in our final part of this series on start-ups, we will cover general e-commerce and employment issues.