One-man bands still battling to protect their ideas

More must be done to support small businesses in harnessing their intellectual property, which for a third of such ventures accounts for the lion share of their revenue, says the FSB.

In fact, having surveyed 1,000 of its 200,000 members, the Federation of Small Businesses found that 33% of respondents rely on their IP rights for between 75 and 100% of turnover.

The issue is that about the same proportion – a third – of small enterprises with IP rights have spent time and money securing them (since 2010), to the tune of £5,000 for one in five of them.

Perhaps even more worryingly, as many as a fifth of the FSB members said that their investment was “not good value for money.”

And even with they do fork out on ways to protect their IP such as patents, branding and/or product designs, a quarter of the small businesses went on to suffer a violation of IP rights.

Copying of their product by a competitor was the most common form of infringement, followed by use of copyrighted work on a website; affecting 50% and 34% respectively.

Although there are a number of tools and services from the Intellectual Property Office to help rights-holders achieve redress, the federation said small businesses “find it difficult to use them.”

This difficulty may explain another of the survey’s findings – almost a third of the small business owners who had their intellectual property stolen took no action against the perpetrator.

This is despite the existence of the IP tools and services, such as the IP Enterprise Court's Small Claims Track, the IPO's mediation service and the Intellectual Property Finance Toolkit.

Some reasons the small ventures gave for not taking action against infringement included the costs involved, a general lack of resources and a lack of awareness of appropriate routes.

“Proper protection of intellectual property is a mainstream issue which deserves a mainstream focus,” appealed the FSB, which found directly contacting the infringer was the preferred course of resolution.

The federation warned: “Left unchecked, theft and infringement of ideas, patents and brand costs small businesses and diminishes their appetite to invest in their business, ultimately hampering the UK's long-term economic growth.”

According to FSB chairman John Allan, the solution is for the government’s current efforts to improve signposting to the IP services and tools to be kept up.

He also thinks that simplification to encourage take-up of the available support is needed, and that “when infringement does occur, redress should be simple, swift and easy to obtain.”

Mr Allan reflected: “Intellectual property is a fundamental building block if the UK is to become the best country in the world for innovation and creative services. Small businesses must be better supported in harnessing intellectual property.”

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Jun 05, 2015