Innovation (in addition to cash flow finance, of course!) is the lifeblood of small businesses.
In the rapidly evolving nature of business today, the companies that prosper are those that can come up with the latest, most groundbreaking innovations. Protecting the products of your business's creativity from theft and copying is a whole different matter, however.
Fortunately, small businesses in Australia can benefit from a comprehensive set of laws that protect commercial intellectual property (IP).
What can be protected?
Small businesses in Australia can rest assured that IP laws here cover a broad span of different types of property - if it involves a degree of original and creative effort, there's a good chance it can be protected.
According to IP Australia, product designs, logos, inventions, new processes, works of art and literature and trade secrets can all be protected under different arms of IP law. These include registered designs, trademarks, patents and copyright.
It's important to remember that intellectual property can be thought of in the terms of physical property, so they can be counted as part of your business's tangible assets - and therefore warrant some form of protection.
How do patents work?
IP Australia defines patents as a "right that is granted for any device, substance, method or process that is new, inventive, and useful".
If your innovation falls into this criterion, it can be worthwhile applying for a patent. This gives the owner the sole right to exploit the product or process for commercial gain for the lifetime of the patent, which can usually span a substantial time depending on the nature of the innovation.
Developing an IP strategy
Just as you wouldn't operate your business without a marketing strategy or a growth strategy, you should make sure you have a comprehensive IP strategy in place to protect your innovations.
One of the key things to remember is the notion of secrecy - in order to legitimately protect your ideas, you must prove that you intend to keep it disclosed from other companies that may also gain some benefit from it. For example, once you exhibit your innovation to the public, it becomes incredibly difficult to apply for a patent to protect it as it has become part of the public domain.
Take the time to consider the pros as well as the cons, such as cost, of applying for a patent or copyright and speak with an expert about the best methods of protection for your business.