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When to consider intellectual property

It’s never too late to think about intellectual property (IP). Use our quick step-by-step guide to avoiding common IP pitfalls and check out key milestones when IP is particularly important.

These are the key times when a business should pay particular attention to IP:

  • starting out
  • seeking investment
  • spending money on research and development
  • spending money on branding, eg logos, signage, website
  • establishing a digital presence
  • employing staff or contractors (or when a staff member is leaving)
  • dealing with confidential information
  • expanding into new areas or shifting business focus, eg a plumber who introduces a new service, or who becomes a product manufacturer
  • importing or exporting
  • selling all or part of your business.
When it comes to IP, even if you’re protected in one place, you might not be protected in another.

When it comes to IP, even if you’re protected in one place, you might not be protected in another.

This can even be true from one New Zealand city to another. Read more about protecting your IP overseas.

The steps below are text versions of the visual guide. It's aimed at people who use screen readers, or who prefer to take in information by reading.

Intellectual property (IP) is about protecting the time, money and effort you put into your business. It's best to identify your IP early, but here are some of the key milestones when every business should think about IP and how to protect it. It's worth reviewing and, if needed, revising your IP plans at these milestones.

Starting out

Tip: Use business.govt.nz’s ONECheck tool to check for businesses with similar names.

  • Don't tell anyone your good idea.
  • Check no one else is using your intended business name or logo.
  • Check if similar products/services are already in the market.
  • Keep sensitive information off your website.

ONECheck (external link)

Staff

Tip: A handshake is never enough. Use our Employment Agreement Builder to create job contracts and make sure both sides sign.

  • State in employment agreements who owns the IP.
  • Add confidentiality clauses when:
    • hiring staff or contractors
    • out-sourcing work, for example to a manufacturing firm, a developer or a graphic designer 
    • licensing or distributing your products/services.

Copyright and other IP (external link)  — Employment Agreement Builder

New ideas

Tip: Patents can be tricky to get right — seek expert advice.

  • Don't tell anyone about your idea until you have a way to protect it.
  • Speak to an IP advisor if you need more help.
  • For secret recipes and other trade secrets, only tell staff who need to use it. Get them to sign confidentiality agreements.

Expanding and exporting

Tip: Continually check your IP is aligned to your business goals.

  • Protect your intellectual property (IP) before moving into a new area.
  • Check a rival isn't already using a similar name, or offering a similar product.
  • Read up on your new market — some countries pose greater IP risks than others, due to counterfeiters or looser rules.

How to create a business plan

Branding and marketing

Tip: Add ™ after your brand name or logo, or ® if you’ve registered these as trade marks.

  • Before spending money on business cards or signage, check no one else has rights to your brand name or logo.
  • To create a consistent brand, use the same logo, font and colours on all marketing material.

Creating your brand

Systems and processes

Tip: Regularly update software systems and passwords to guard against unauthorised access.

  • Protect confidential information. If you tell people, competitors may be able to use it. 
  • Lock your customer databases behind strong passwords.

Storing and backing up data

Selling your business

Tip: Use our checklist to identify your IP assets, and learn easy protection tips along the way.

  • List your intellectual property (IP) assets and how they are protected when selling all or part of your business – or selling shares to investors.
  • IP — especially if protected — will boost the value of your business.
  • It shows you know how to manage valuable assets. It also reassures buyers/investors your good ideas can’t easily be stolen or replicated.

IP checklist

Basic IP business steps

There’s no one size fits all approach to IP, but for most businesses it comes down to a few main steps. And the earlier you do these, the better.

Checklist

Step 1. Identify your IP

Think about what it is you do and what you might need to protect. Take a walk through your business and ask yourself what’s uniquely yours.

Use our checklist of common IP assets to note everything you find. Basic examples might include your trading name, domain name, logo, website, staff business knowledge, distribution and sales agreements, and customer databases.

Step 2.  Consider where your business is going and how to protect what’s necessary (within budget)

A lot of what you need to protect comes down to where you want your business to go. For example, if you’re planning to stay local, and keep to your core business, basic IP protection like trademarking slogans and logos might be enough. 

If, however, you’re looking to open more branches, go overseas, hire staff or contractors, or seek investment, a more in-depth look at IP becomes increasingly important. At these junctures, you need to decide how IP can help your business goals.

Put reminders in your calendar to renew things like your domain name or trade mark.

Put reminders in your calendar to renew things like your domain name or trade mark.

If you don’t keep up renewals, you risk losing IP protection.

Step 3. Use your IP to its maximum advantage

Savvy small businesses know that controlling IP is as much about gaining market advantages as keeping competitors away. For example, having total control of your IP might allow you to:

  • advertise a specific product or service
  • attract more customers
  • convince investors to provide backing
  • freely use a technology.

Data for Business (external link)  — Stats New Zealand tools drill into data on competitors and customers

Accordian Dr Feel Good50

Case study

Pop of inspiration

As soon as Craig Jackson thought of the name Dr Feelgood for his ice pop business, he knew he had to secure it with IPONZ. With a background in film and design, Jackson understood the value of brand identity. He wasn’t sure of his chance of registering it — it was already the name of a British band and an album by Mötley Crüe. While there were other Dr Feelgoods on the IPONZ register, the name was available in the trade mark classifications relating to confectionary and foods and drinks.

Launched in early January 2015, Dr Feelgood is already rapidly expanding into new markets and products. IP is a key part of Jackson’s business strategy.

“We’re continuing to secure IP as our business grows into new product and market areas. It’s really important to our commercialisation opportunities. We’ve also taken in-house steps to keep our trade secrets safe,” he says.

“It’s really important that new businesses think of their IP as an asset and how it fits in to where their business is going – especially in the early days. Lots of people think IP is a difficult thing to understand, but it’s not. Even basic steps can really help protect and grow your brand.”

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