Small Talk: A cleverer approach to the issue of intellectual rights

This week on Business Connections... David Prosser on making sure you comply with international sanctions. Join our growing SME network at:

Are you properly protecting your intellectual capital? The World Intellectual Property Organisation says that small and medium-sized enterprises account for 90 per cent of all enterprises worldwide and are responsible for 70 per cent of the goods and services produced. Yet SMEs often suffer at the hands of a few powerful giant businesses who use their clout to cash in on others' innovation.

The UK's complicated intellectual property regulation has favoured large companies with generous legal budgets over smaller businesses – in some cases, SMEs have been forced out of business following the theft of their ideas by giant rivals.

Last year's Digital Opportunity report, from Professor Ian Hargreaves, was an attempt to level the playing field. The Government is implementing many of its recommendations, which do not apply solely to digital innovation. It has also begun working harder to support SMEs trying to get to grips with intellectual property – the Intellectual Property Office now runs regular events offering advice on the nitty gritty of the rules.

Meanwhile, a report from Zurich Insurance and the City solicitor Clyde & Co gives advice to SMEs thinking about intellectual capital for the first time.

Start by identifying the intellectual property assets available to your business – conduct regular audits and catalogue the rights you think you have. Once you've identified them, protect your rights as soon as you can.

Keep up-to-date records of research, drawings, designs, discussions and meeting notes relating to any invention, brand or product.

Once the rights have been granted, don't simply forget about them. Manage and maintain your intellectual property rights in order to develop their value. Monitor the market to ensure that your rights are not being infringed. It may be possible to secure additional value from your intellectual property rights by, for example, licensing or franchising them to others.

Intellectual property resources can also be a useful business driver in their own right. There is a wealth of technological and commercial information available from online patent and trademark databases – it may be possible to identify future business partners from these and you will certainly be able to find out about what your more innovative competitors are up to.

Maintain your rights by renewing applications and paying fees on time.

If you're seeking protection in another country you'll need to take expert advice from a specialist with local knowledge.

Games deals produce golden year for Vislink

Vislink has spent the summer working on the Olympics after its equipment was used to beam pictures from live events on pitches and Games stadia into newsrooms around the world – and now the City reckons it is set to enjoy a business turnaround and post a £2.7m pre-tax profit.

The FTSE Fledgling-listed firm – whose technology was used to cover British triumphs such as Jade Jones in taekwondo (pictured) – posts interims next Thursday.

John Hawkins, the executive chairman, who previously headed the board of the bull sperm firm Genus and is chairman of the tech group Psion, was appointed last year, and launched a swift strategic review of the business which has seen the City predict a profitable year. Mr Hawkins' three-year plan, set out last November, sees him aim to grow turnover to £80m and for annual pre-tax profit to hit £8m.

"While still early in the year, the group looks on track to meet our full-year estimates," said the technology team at Edison Investments. "The launch of [Vislink's new] LiveGear branded product range addresses the incremental high growth opportunity in video broadcast, a key component of management's longer-term growth and margin expansion ambitions."

The last six months have seen Vislink's share price rise from 25p to just over 32p.

Self-employed numbers soar

More than 39,000 people went self-employed between April and June, taking the total number working for themselves to more than 4.2 million and helping the recent improvement in the UK's employment rate, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Matt Barrie, chief executive of the jobs site, said he had seen the number of self-employed users registering on its site increase by more than 300 per cent during the last quarter.

"The numbers of the self-employed are swelling at records rates because of a combination of job insecurity, [and] technological advances that reduce set-up costs," he said.

The site's figures indicate average earnings for projects for the self-employed have risen by two thirds this year compared to last.

Small businessman of the week: Jonathan Elliot, managing director, Make It Cheaper

It's the smallest businesses that need the most help

"I was involved in a domestic gas and electricity price comparison service in the early 2000s, and small businesses were saying, 'I've been trying to use your online tool to save money for my coffee shop and it doesn't work,' and of course it didn't because it was designed for households and not businesses.

We saw a need for an organisation that would provide impartial, honest and fair advice and cost-savings deals for small businesses. There are lots of people out there who look after big businesses and medium-sized businesses, but there's no one who looks after the small business owner.

"Since it started in 2007, Make It Cheaper has looked after several hundred thousand customers – last year we saved small businesses £88m on their energy bills as well as telecoms, insurance and merchant services.

"We're self-funded, so it was a matter of using some savings and some bank loans, really managing our cash very, very carefully and bootstrapping it.

"We've also set up a Make It Cheaper in Australia – we've got about 120 staff based in Sydney. We're all in this global recession, and it tends to be the smallest businesses that need the most help."

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