Businesses in the UK have always been good at innovation. It is one of our strengths. Whatever the outcome of Brexit, the fortunes of the United Kingdom and the companies based here will continue to depend on innovation, whether that is in product design, pharmaceuticals, advanced manufacturing, digital innovations or the so called Industry 4.0. The Industry 4.0 will require businesses to be agile and embrace new technologies. Industry 4.0 is about collaboration, fast turnaround, use of online technologies, particularly advances in CAD software, digital printing and customer derived products. There is a move towards the ability to design and make products for specific customers highly influenced by customer demands. Simply offering certain products in the hope that customers find them useful will become to be seem as inflexible and uncompetitive.

In this world where survival will require innovation as well as being fast, agile and creative, a key asset will be these innovations and customer specific developments - your competitive advantage.

The profile of a future successful high margin, high value business will be one that knows it is making innovations, captures those innovations (competitive advantage), decides if that competitive advantage can be protected by legal rights, most importantly decides whether the cost of obtaining those rights should be incurred. Then effective and informed management must be applied to the protection and exploitation of those rights and the associated competitive advantage to maximise returns for the business.

In contrast, a business which is not effective in this way is more likely to end up in the commodity ‘dog eat dog’ low market part of the economy overwhelmed by cheap imports and struggling to export.

There needs to be a dose of realism in all this. It is likely that if you are manufacturing in a developing economy such as China, Vietnam, and Turkey, then preventing your "competitive advantage" from leaking out and being copied will be difficult. It is almost a ‘cost’ for cheap manufacturing that you lose some control perhaps even a lot of control over your intellectual property. However, it is possible to have good protection for that intellectual property and competitive advantage in the developed economies where the products are being imported and sold – ie where the revenue is being generated.

Even some of the developing economies are improving the protection for intellectual property because their own national businesses need that protection. These include China slowly and India.

So a successful business in this globalised fast paced super agile economy is likely to have a management that understands the innovation being created, captures those innovations, knows how to protect them, has appropriate commercial criteria for obtaining protection or not. Also important is understanding the tax breaks available and reviewing investment in intellectual property on a regular basis.

It is more than just having a patent or trade mark, it is about the whole thought process relating to the protection, management and exploitation of innovation in your business. Don't give away what you should have kept and don’t keep what you don’t need. Do be informed about available options, do have your own criteria to use to make decisions about intellectual property, and do claim the tax breaks.

For further help or advice, please contact our Intellectual Property specialist, John Sykes, on 01904 611411 or