Before your SME can take advantage of intellectual property (IP) assets it has to acquire IP rights. A number of IP rights need to be granted or registered. At the national level, IP offices of the respective countries are the only institutions entrusted with granting or registering IP rights. The procedure for their acquisition and maintenance may differ from country to country, but the basic principles and features of these procedures are common to most countries. One should also note that IP rights could also, where certain conditions are met, be acquired at a regional or international level (see "Protecting the Intellectual Property Rights of Your SME Abroad.")
Before seeking IP protection for your SME in a particular country, you are advised to study the countrys legal system that governs IP issues. There are various sources of information on IP legislation. Probably the best place to start would be the national or regional IP office or copyright office to obtain the details of IP protection in your country. You may, in addition, consult the WIPO Collection of Laws for Electronic Access (CLEA). It is often advisable to seek guidance from an IP agent or attorney particularly when the relevant IP laws require that an applicant who is not residing in the country be represented by an agent or attorney entitled to practice in that country. The IP office or IP agent/attorney should be able to advise you as to whether special incentives, in terms of reduced fees, are available to SMEs for IP acquisition and maintenance.
The procedure for obtaining protection and maintenance of intellectual property rights by your SME is outlined below:
- Utility Models
- Trade/Service Marks
- Collective Marks
- Well-known Marks
- Geographical Indications
- Industrial Designs
Challenges that most SMEs face in acquiring IP protection include the following:
- inadequate manpower to undertake the necessary groundwork needed for IP acquisition, for example, initial searches and other pre-filing procedures;
- high costs involved, particularly, in the patenting process which may go hand in hand with expenses for the translation of documents and fees for IP agents or attorneys;
- inadequate in-house knowledge of IP rights and procedures for their protection.
To some extent, the burdens associated with IP acquisition may be diminished if you have a greater understanding of how the IP system can be used effectively. SMEs may also reduce the workload and costs of acquiring IP by applying for IP protection through regional or international arrangements when seeking IP protection abroad (see Protecting the IP Rights of Your SME Abroad), making use of special incentives offered to SMEs, wherever available, or opting for lower levels of protection as in the case of utility model protection, where the legislation of the country or countries in question allow such forms of protection.