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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.

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.


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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