Every business will have some form of intellectual property (IP) - not just those that deal with technology - and all could benefit from an IP audit. A review of your IP assets and processes should help you to decide whether you are making the best possible use of your existing IP assets.

The audit should identify any registered IP rights, such as patents, trade marks and registered designs and any potentially patentable inventions or registrable trade marks or designs, and identify unregistered rights such as unregistered trading names and branding, domain names, and unregistered design rights. The audit could identify trade secrets and copyright material such as databases, photographs and written material in the company websites and product/promotional materials.

An IP audit will be performed by an experienced IP practitioner, such as a patent or trade mark attorney or IP solicitor. The auditor will find out as much as they can about the company in question, including the commercial sectors in which they operate, the company's business plan and the features of the company that are important and unique. This information is gathered in many different ways, but can involve site visits, reviews of products, manuals and marketing material, reviews of licence agreements, searches of electronic databases such as patent and trade mark registries, or competitor analysis.

Potential IP-related threats may also be highlighted such as third party IP rights which might present an impediment to the company's ongoing and/or proposed commercial activities.

Once relevant existing rights have been identified, the auditor will make recommendations to improve the company's position, such as identifying potentially registrable IP and advising on IP-related aspects of internal and external employment contracts, as well as company procedures for identifying and recording IP.

The cost of an IP audit will depend on the size and type of the company in question and upon the required depth and purpose of the audit. Help is at hand - if your company is an innovative UK SME, it may be possible to obtain funding to help pay for an IP audit, such as via the innovate2succeed programme. If your company qualifies through one of these programmes, the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) will heavily subsidise the audit cost by paying £2600 towards a £3000 cost, inclusive of VAT. More information about the innovate2succeed programme through the UKIPO can be found online, and your auditor should be able to put you in contact with these providers.

Those who have had an IP audit are positive about the results. According to the UKIPO, for those who have had an IP audit funded through the UKIPO, 78% of businesses said they are acting on some, most or all of the IP audit report's recommendations, and another 19% expect to do so in the following year. 72% reported that they had introduced an IP management strategy as a result of their audit, 40% of companies filed a new trade mark application, 22% filed a patent application and 17% filed a design application.

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