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Get it right

Dids MacDonald, CEO of Anti-Copying in Design (ACID), discusses growth through innovation and says good design is a key market differentiator

In a sector that is still growing despite the gloomy economic news elsewhere, design is a key differentiator between one product and another. In a competitive world where every order is hard earned, it's important to get it right! Pricing and design quality, reinforced by a robust marketing strategy which promotes the benefits of small scale design and manufacture, will be a strong selling point.
ACID supports the view that investment in training, design, expertise and creativity will help the industry respond to, and capitalise on, the challenges ahead. Design know-how, skill and craftsmanship are the lifeblood of the UK design sector and recognised worldwide. For tomorrow's IP originators to flourish, craftsmen, designers and manufacturers will need to identify and harness their intellectual property to fully protect, exploit and commercialise the IP they create. By adopting a proactive strategy, this will help to reduce the risks of infringement and maximise the opportunities to trade positively to provide growth and job security. So what better time to focus attention on a proactive intellectual property strategy to protect the intellectual capital that sits under your brand? Whether micro, SME or a major organisation, creating an IP strategy must be a key ingredient within any three - five year business plan.

ACID's IP strategy points to consider:

Create one!
ACID can help. Take a quick look at some easy ways in which an IP strategy can be created. If you're an ACID corporate member, come to one of our IP strategy lunches including one to one design clinics and benefit from an IP audit and IP strategy review.

Positive communication of your IP strategy
This is essential - internally and externally and throughout the whole supply chain. Basically, if you don't want to be copied say so. There is no better place than on a website, within terms & conditions, marketing material and product labelling. IP communication sends a clear message that original design and design integrity = value, not only for the purchaser but for the originator.

Create a proactive IP strategy
Not reactive, only deals with IP issues when it becomes fire fighting. Identify IP issues and put a plan in place. Ask what the risk factors are. What is your plan of action if you discover copies? If you haven't got one, create one.

Education - become IP savvy
Create an informed understanding within your team. IP knowledge is important to all organisations, regardless of size. The ACID website has some very useful IP Q & A's: www.acid.uk.com/ip-doctor

Choose battles carefully
Never sue on principal, only if there's a quantifiable loss and a clear IP case to pursue. Publicise any settlements in the trade press to communicate a zero tolerance of IP infringement. The trade press is a small world and word soon gets out.

Territories
Identify where you are trading, and what the risk factors are. If your designs are infringed in another country, where is your IP support? Have you registered your designs in that country? For example, to take legal action in China you need to have registered your designs.

Registrations
Create an IP portfolio of your design and trade mark registrations, including any patents you may have. This is also essential for raising funding/investment or exit strategies.

Trade secrets/employees
Ensure there are restrictions in contracts of employment. There's nothing worse than finding out that an ex-employee has run off with all your valuable trade secrets to arm a competitor with a fast track to your know-how. A company's or individual's 'trade secrets' refer to confidential business information to which only a limited amount of people within a business have access, such as your customer list, the methods you use to make your product specific to design, manufacturing or industrial processes. In short, anything that gives you a competitive advantage.

Confidentiality
Guard your trade secrets carefully. Ensure that there's a protocol in place to ensure that the confidentiality of your business is not compromised. Create confidentiality agreements for sensitive information between you and employees privy to this information.

Agreements
Clarity of IP ownership is essential. Agreements underpin most commercial relationships; it's good to know you have the small print to rely on if things go wrong. ACID has some standard re-usable agreements, which can be tailored with IP legal input and become part of your standard terms and conditions of business.

Insurance
Expensive but worth considering if continuing infringement is a significant issue.

ADR/mediation?
It's good to talk! Consider Alternative Dispute Resolution/Mediation as an alternative to litigations.

Patents county court
In the last two years there has been a significant improvement in the process and costs element of enforcing your rights in court. There is also a small claims track for low value IP claims under £5,000.

Got a good idea?
Keep it safe! Never underestimate the risks of sharing a good idea unless you know there are safeguards. If the safeguards are in place then the idea can turn into positive design collaboration for mutual advantage and joint success. Think about using ACID's IP Tracker (available also to non-members). A safe means of sending confidential information or designs digitally to a third party. Visit www.acid.uk.com/ip-tracker

Register for protection
Register new designs wherever possible and budget for enforcement. ACID has a Design Databank for unregistered designs and it's free to members. This doesn't add to IPRs, but nevertheless serves as compelling proof and provides third party evidence of when new designs are received by ACID.

Invest in the right IP advice
Invest with IP professionals and business advisers who know and understand your business and your marketplace. Those with demonstrable experience within the furniture sector will serve you well.

Arm yourself with knowledge
Be IP aware! Watch competitors closely; watch the marketplace.

Respect the rights of others
Essential within your own CSR.

Know the risk factors
Who is copying you? Keep watch!

2013 will continue to raise challenges for the giftware sector but with the right IP policy in place, this can help maximise growth opportunities and allow you to successfully launch new products into the marketplace from a position of knowledge, safety and strength.

Further information
Visit the ACID website, www.acid.uk.com

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