Managing Intellectual Assets within Small and Medium Businesses

Small and medium enterprises/businesses (SME/SMBs) typically rely on limited numbers of highly flexible, multi-tasking personnel until they grow to a size where employment of personnel for specific roles is sustainable within the business. For example, the general manager or managing director may directly handle staffing matters rather than employing a human resources manager.

Often, responsibility to oversee all intellectual assets of a business, and specifically to manage an intellectual property portfolio (IPP), is given to the chief financial officer or head engineer, not uncommonly because that person once completed a unit in intellectual property as an undergraduate at some stage in their past. The amount of time, paperwork and decision-making for those personnel demanded by an IPP is often seen as a distraction from their day-to-day role within the business, and, understandably, the IPP may be neglected or at least take backseat. The resulting downside is that the valuable assets within the IPP are at risk of lapsing, or at the very least, incurring unnecessary costs to the business through late action.

Putting in place some straightforward practices and procedures will help reduce time demands, paperwork and maintain the valuable IPP assets within the SME/SMB:

  1. People and ideas management
    • Ensure that a person or team within the business is specifically tasked with handling intellectual asset matters:
    • Put intellectual asset matters on meeting agendas
    • Set up a simple reporting/information cascading structure so that management, technical team, accounts staff and marketing are aware of intellectual asset matters
    • Put in place a simple electronic or paper based idea capture mechanism so that new IP is considered and not lost
    • Build a relationship with your attorneys – include your attorneys in meetings to ensure advice is obtained and any necessary action taken as early as possible
  2. Streamline the IP paperwork:
    • Adopt a simple electronic or paper filing system that firstly, separates out the different types of IP rights e.g. patents, trade marks, designs, and secondly sub-divides these IP regimes by country or region for each respective invention, trade mark or design
    • highlight important deadlines and set action dates for the responsible person/team well ahead of any deadline
  3. Reducing time demands
    • Instruct intellectual property attorneys/agents to act automatically without needing separate instructions for each matter. For example, instruct your attorneys to renew IP rights automatically rather than waiting on specific instructions.

Establishing these practices can not only help to integrate management of intellectual assets within a business but can also help synchronise such assets to the various roles within the business, such as management, technical, accounting and marketing.