Protecting intellectual property

Intellectual property audit


The first step to protecting and exploiting your business' intellectual property (IP) successfully is carrying out a systematic intellectual property audit.

If you're doing an audit for the first time, you may be surprised by how many IP assets your company has and how valuable these are to your business.

How to carry out an IP audit?

To carry out an audit, look closely at your business to:

  • identify where IP is used
  • find out who owns the IP rights
  • assess the value of the IP

This won't always be straightforward. Remember that your IP doesn't just reside in patents you hold or trade marks you have registered. You will also need to consider items such as trade secrets, bespoke software, written material, domain names, customer databases, etc.

Determining who owns IP

Intellectual property can have more than one owner. It can belong to individuals or businesses and be sold or transferred. It's important to determine exactly who owns IP in your business.

Generally speaking, you own intellectual property if you:

  • created it (and it meets the requirements for copyright, patent or design protection)
  • bought the rights from the creator or a previous owner
  • have a brand that could be a trade mark, eg a well-known product name

Ownership can be more difficult to determine if the IP has been created by an employee or a freelance contractor.

What is the purpose of an IP audit?

The purpose of an audit is to:

  • discover any IP assets which may be under-utilised
  • identify potential risks to your business, eg costly legal proceedings
  • enable you to plan and create a strategy to maintain and grow your business

Key questions an IP audit should raise are:

  • Is your IP protected?
  • Are you infringing anybody else's IP rights?
  • Are you fully exploiting your IP?

Using a logbook to manage your IP

It can be helpful to record all research, notes, designs and meetings related to your ideas in a dated, tamper-proof logbook, with witness signatures where appropriate. This can serve as a powerful tool, helping you identify and protect your IP later on.

  • Invest NI Helpline
    0800 181 4422