Roger’s company – IP4All – is an intellectual property consultancy aimed at individuals and SMEs. One of his aims is to raise awareness of IP particularly within small companies and help them realise what IP they may have. IP, of course, can add significant value to a company – it is property and it’s important to understand how it can generate income. It can be licensed or assigned to others or the original owner can keep it as an exclusive right.
Knowing who owns that property is just as important, and this can be affected by such things as contracts of employment and who was involved in the inventive process. Ownership of a patent is a negative right in that it doesn’t give you the right to produce the patented product – it may be that someone else may have a prior claim to that. What it does give you the right to do is to take legal action against someone infringing your patent.
When a patent is granted to two or more people each is regarded as having an equal share unless there is a contract stating otherwise. For example, any licence or assignment must be done with the agreement of all partners. Obviously such a situation can be complex and it is wise to agree in writing at an early stage the terms of the agreement and who has responsibility for what.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both individual and shared ownership and a number options in relation to this. For example, an individual might set up a trading company and use this to ring-fence the IP from trading risks. If an inventor is attempting to licence their invention to a larger company the larger company is likely to feel happier if they’re dealing with another company rather than an individual.
Roger suggested that it’s far better to try to consider all the issues before filing a patent. First of all – is it worth applying for a patent? Will the market be there long enough to justify doing so? Having established that it is worthwhile to do so, think about a policy for exploiting the invention and its IP, a policy for enforcing your rights and also consider the best business structure to protect and exploit your intellectual property.