Lockdowns, shutdowns, military warfare, sanctions, blockades, trade-wars, and natural disasters, all have immediate and direct impact, first and foremost on Small and Medium Enterprises (SME). It is no surprise that millions of SMEs worldwide would have to face the brunt of the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic. This is a fact, but it is also a fact that future is uncertain, no matter whether lockdowns are for finite periods with moving targets or short term. The true entrepreneurs will have to think strategically and reinvigorate to face different tomorrows! In this article, Intellectual Property is being proposed as one of the ways to rebuild and rebound. Tangible properties could be subject to devaluation, decay, and destruction. Human intellect is dynamic and continues to grow after every encounter with adversity. In the current time of uncertainty, SMEs can devote their time in taking stock of their intangibles and intellectual properties like Trademarks, Trade Secrets, Industrial Designs, sui generis databases and patents. This is an opportune period to invest time in R & D projects.

Trademark is not only for MNCs or large corporations

Trademarks represent corporate value, a sign of distinctiveness and recognition in the minds of the customers. Humans are likely to have better associative memory subconsciously than working memory like keeping records of past purchases. Development of a Trademark is not an expensive exercise. Every SME whether a F & B outlet, handicraft producer, printers, artists, or components manufacturer, has a trade name under which it delivers some goods or services. Posting a symbol of its provider or of certain quality “mark” which can be recognised from distance, can make the entity or TM owner, stand out on the shelf of a supermarket or billboards. Same symbol on multiple products, services, regions, and countries, will carry with it a message which its owner intends to convey. Trademarks are legally recognized intellectual properties, which can be registered at nominal fee with national and international registries, often called as Patents and Trademarks Office. The lifespan for a Trademark is perpetual if its registration is being renewed at periodic intervals and is not disqualified under the laws of the country where it is registered. Same Trademark can be registered by single application, in single language and one-time fee, across 122 countries. Let this be the first IP asset for your SME during this pandemic, as a seed for future growth. Trademarks can generate revenue through licensing and franchising depending on the reputation and the nature of goods and services. Most famous Trademarks like Coca Cola, Gucci, Tiger Balm, H&M, Apple, Comfort, etcetera was unknown before they were registered and marketed worldwide.

Designs and Copyrights

In every stage of a product delivery SMEs used their concepts, designs, drawings, layouts and processes from raw inputs till product delivery. Not every stage is a common knowledge. There could be some originality either in look, or feel, or in process and know-how, which makes one entity differ from another. within the same market segment. It is time to conduct a detailed IP audit to categorise all intellectual properties within the firm. From website designs, brochures, training manuals, moulds, shapes, colour combinations etcetera are typical examples. Industrial Design is also a registrable IP Asset which if successfully registered can block competitors from using the same design appearance. This exclusivity in the domestic as well as international markets where design is registered, can generate licensing revenue, without having to incur the costs of production and logistics for export markets, made inaccessible due to pandemic. Industrial Designs can be protected against copyrights for about 10 years, which can give a competitive edge to any SME willing to pursue it.

Original drawings, software applications, network-diagrams, electronic circuits, manuals etcetera are also protected under copyright laws of the member states of WTO and Berne Convention.  SMEs may like to explore how to generate revenue from such intangible properties.

Creativity and Continuity – Patents vs Utility Models

The IP audit often provides new avenues to be explored for either enhancement of valuation of current assets, or for creating new intellectual properties, to meet the needs of the challenging times. Registration of unregistered IP assets is the first and foremost step which SMEs can take immediately during the interim period to legally protect their IP Rights. Legally protected IP rights may out survive the bankruptcy or liquidation of a firm. Even if tangible assets may become redundant post crisis period, but IP assets can throw the lifeline. Secondly once the audit is complete, it will provide impetus for creativity. Some R & D projects underway before the crisis, could be salvaged in the form of Utility Patents instead of normal patent. Utility Model Patents can be granted in much shorter period probably within six months to one year and of shorter lifespan of about ten years as compared to patents. Looking for alternative businesses or getting burdened by the pressures of closing and salvaging physical assets may not be the only way. UM also acts as a risk mitigation strategy in certain segments. Human intellect works at its best once faced with desperation and adverse situation, which is well summed up in adage, “Survival of the Fittest” but must be applied for both intellectually and spiritually to make it happen.

For more resources on benefits and strategies of harnessing intellectual property, visit your national IPOs for example in Hong Kong at https://www.ipd.gov.hk/eng/home.htm; or contact us at  customerdesk.tmc@tiberiasmc.com  for further details about how to create Trademarks and intellectual property.