How to protect a great business idea article banner image

So you’ve got a great idea for a business. That’s fantastic, well done. Many of the businesses we see are inspiring, interesting and great for the marketplace. Many also fall  into the common trap of creating a new business around an idea without first securing their ‘web’ of intellectual property rights.


It might surprise you to learn that the law offers no protection for ideas alone. But there are a myriad of different protections available for the expressions of those ideas. Design
rights and registered designs protect the appearance of a product and copyright automatically occurs in everything from software to architecture. Patents can be sought for original inventions, and trade marks protect names, products and logos.

What’s in a name?

Choosing a name for your business or product is quite often the first decision to make. Simple you think and you may already have one in mind. However, is anyone else using that name or a similar name? This is relevant to both your business name and the brand name for your product or service. You could be guilty of trade mark infringement if you use a similar name to another business which can result in having to pay out  damages, destroy products with the offending mark on, and beingordered to stop using the mark. There are basic searches you can run yourself (think Google) and more comprehensive searches can be run for around £200 plus VAT.

So while Juliet was certainly right that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, we always advise you to get the right name from the outset. Choose a business or product name that’s not already in use and then register it as a trade mark to make sure only you have the right to use it in your sector.

Shhhh, it’s a secret

During the initial stages of getting a business up and running you might consult with friends and contacts about your idea.

Before you start selling, it is important to keep information confidential. This is particularly crucial if you have something you want to patent or need to preserve a first-to-market advantage. There is no automatically occurring duty of confidentiality. Products that are made public before applying for a patent either might not be patentable at all or the disclosure could make the patent invalid further down the line. There might also be information that you want to keep confidential throughout the life of your business, such as how a new app is developed or a secret recipe.

In both of these circumstances you should get a written confidentiality agreement (also known as a nondisclosure agreement) signed by everyone you share your idea with.

Who owns it, anyway?

It might come as a shock to find out that anyone you contract in to help you set up your business, like a website developer, manufacturer or designer, automatically owns the rights over everything they create.

This is true even if you have commissioned and paid for the work. To make sure you own all of the rights in your business, have a legally binding assignment document drawn up and signed by your collaborators or contractors. This document will prove invaluable as it will effectively transfer all the intellectual property rights to your business.

Just do it 

If you have a great business idea and want to get some initial advice for free, we run an IP MOT service which identifies where you stand with your intellectual property and gives you guidance on how to fix any problems. You can then get on with your business knowing you’re protected.