Will Intellectual Property lead the UK out of recession?

Posted by 12 July, 2013 (0) Comment

This article is about the true value of intellectual property, the risks and advantages when leveraging it, and the solutions available.

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Intellectual property is Marvellous


Every week I meet someone who has had a great idea.  Not all of them will make as much money as Coca Cola, yet some of them are simply amazing. Naturally, these conversations are private and confidential, and I am often asked to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), before I am party to the secret. I don’t mind doing this because it helps build trust with entrepreneurs and inventors.

I think it is vital to protect the intellectual property in any country, UK Plc. seem to have more nurtured good ideas than most. The gentleman who designs Apple products is British, although he is an employee of Apple, so he is handsomely rewarded for giving them the rights and it makes sense to leverage an idea by partnering with someone who has the means to make the most of it.

The UK authorities are aware of just how much tax revenue they make when ideas created in the UK are well protected in the UK, so they have invested in grants making it worthwhile to protect intellectual property, because they make money when we make money.

Intellectual property risks examples


One inventor has designed a new water bottle for athletes. Another has invented one with a filter that means that it can be filled from a puddle, yet still be drinkable. When they initially approached me they had similar concerns, someone might copy it and they wanted to enforce their patent, design and trademark rights. Perhaps another manufacturer would try to flood the market with cheap copies that would damage the brand if people were injured whilst using an inferior bottle.

Social Media searches helped another inventor determine people who were jealous of the invention and were using very similar names to promote their product. In each case they can enforce their rights because they arrange protection to close down the miscreants or, at least, stop the fake or suspiciously named goods reaching consumers.

Sometimes this is achievable by a warning shot across the bows, commonly known as a cease and desist letter; this doesn’t always work. Authorities will act upon injunctions and stop goods leaving a factory, impound them at a distributors warehouse or prevent them being loaded onto a ship if the Intellectual Property owner has the means to enforce their rights. Sometimes this is avoided by the miscreants and the legal costs of enforcement mount up.

Some inventors have told me that they believe people will think twice when they have signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and that is certainly true for the vast majority of people. Large companies and corporations have taken advantage of the little guys and will stop at nothing to make a buck. Just a little research unearths companies who brought their manufacturing process back to the UK from abroad to find that aggressive companies in England started copying their top four selling items and promoting them on the internet.

Whoever let the copycat have the designs probably signed an NDA. It will take time to find out who the culprit was or if the data was stolen by hacking, employees or “external forces” have been known to do this. Without legal costs protection in place, even though they had protected their unique features and registered their designs, it costs a considerable amount of money, time and effort, to stop this happening.

The same applied to an Irish game designer, doing business in the UK, who was courted by a US publisher with a hawkish side. It cost $380,000 to get the game they “copied” removed from the shelves and they eventually gained a licence agreement for a share of the sales of his original ideas.

Intellectual property advantages


It is understandable that some companies do not want to register a patent because they know that there are really aggressive companies, especially in the US, who have a habit of copying ideas as soon as they are registered.  I don’t mean registered as a patent, I mean patent applied for. How they find out about such things is fraudulent, of course, and I share tweets noting those that get caught or the sectors that are at the biggest risk.  Savvy intellectual property advisors often recommend that registering be left until the last minute, yet this also carries the risk that someone else may have come up with the idea on a completely opposite of the world, and register it first, obtaining Worldwide rights, if they have the ability to do so.

When discussing these issues I let people know that there are ways of protecting such inventions without them being fully registered.  Get a registration in first, and inventors or designers can enforce their rights before they are registered. This makes patent attorneys and intellectual property lawyers very happy because it gives them a significant tool in their armoury and also enables them to generate fees when the protection process takes too long.

Large companies do not wait for small companies to enter the market before they attack them. A client is in the UK and bought a US Company and made it their branded subsidiary. The players who had the largest share of that particular US market instantly issued “malicious” proceedings against the UK Company before they had even started promoting their products.


Wrap Up: Intellectual Property is a real bargaining chip, if it is adequately protected.  Aggressors often try to tie new entrants up in legal process – which is a huge cost – especially in the US, to prevent them from spending their money on marketing and eroding the established leaders market share.

Top Tip: Having a non-disclosure agreement is great, yet you will need to enforce it if someone breaches confidentiality or trade secrets. This is simple yet not easy. Registering patents, marks, brands, domain names, or other unique features of a product or service, and the way it is marketed, can all form part of Intellectual Property protection.




Categories : Accountants Insurance,After The Event,All Risks Insurance,Building Contractor,Business Insurance,Company Insurance,Contractors Insurance,Customer Service,Design Insurance,Domian name protection,General Requirements,Health & Safety,Intellectual Property Insurance,Legal expenses insurance,Liability Insurance,Litigation expenses insurance,Patent Insurance,Personal Insurance,Solicitors indemnity,Solicitors insurance,Trade,Trade Secret Protection,Trademark Insurance,Uncategorized Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Insurance agent or double agent?

Posted by 8 December, 2012 (0) Comment

A few of our property owning clients seemed confused when I advised them that we handle all their claims personally. Their previous suppliers had been settling claims on behalf of the insurance company. This article highlights how not all insurance suppliers are the same, how to check and what to do if you’re shocked to find your supplier is not on your side.

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Who pays the claims?


The insurance company will, ultimately, yet sometimes they will have authorised an agent to manage claims and write cheques on their behalf. This is supposed to speed up the process yet there’s a hidden downside. Agents that pay out less in claims get a bonus from the insurance company. This bonus can amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds. Faced with arranging payment of a few thousand and losing thousands in return is just too tempting for some people. Morals and money are not good friends.


How can you tell it’s possible?


The FSA thinks these practices are OK. They insist providers make it clear in their documents. Look out for small print stating “we act on behalf of the insurer when settling claims”. It may not be clear but it must be on there somewhere. Most people are surprised when the service they expected doesn’t materialise. Yet the clues are always in the T&Cs.


What if your expectation isn’t met?


Policies can be cancelled if they are not a “minimum and deposit” wording. As long as a claim has not occurred, refunds can be obtained. If they refuse to refund their fees in a huff it’s not good news. I’ve heard of some suppliers hiding the fact they collect 48% of the annual investment. It’s never too late to check small print (unless the paperwork gets damaged before you get around to it). The law of the sod is the number one law of insurance.


Wrap up: Not all agents are independent. It’s not always easy to tell at first glance. Look again.

Top tip: A quick flick through the documents that detail your cover will determine exactly whose side an agent is on.

Who to share this with: Property Owners, Facilities Managers, Business owners that rely on their premises to stay in business.

Categories : Accountants Insurance,All Risks Insurance,Building Contractor,Business Insurance,Company Insurance,Customer Service,General Requirements,Liability Insurance,Personal Insurance,Trade,Uncategorized Tags : , , , , , , , , , ,

Insurer’s blind eye leaves business owners vulnerable

Posted by 12 October, 2012 (0) Comment

This article looks at why it’s vital for companies to protect their reputation. Employee accusations can really hurt, especially if word spreads that you’ve acted immorally, just because someone is being vindictive.

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Who protects the boss?


It’s a real nightmare for business owners when employees get upset. Business is Business yet allegations of discrimination or mistreatment can be quite frightening. This is especially so if word were to get out that a business acted questionably or immorally, simply because someone is disgruntled or being vindictive.

Rumours can easily reach clients, and frequently do, so we often help business people who want to nip these issues in the bud. They reduce the chances of unexpected legal costs, by asking us to help them reduce the impact, if malicious rumours are being spread about them. This is a sensible approach, that proves extremely cost effective, should it ever happen.

Does it always work?


Usually it does… yet recently I found an insurance company who wasn’t providing the cover I expected. I was discussing the merits of a policy with the company that issued it. When I congratulated them on having more generous cover than their competitors they seemed surprised.

They went on to look into the policy, and informed me that their generosity was a typo and the cover they mentioned didn’t apply. This was a real shame because I had already mentioned it to my client. Of course I had to withdraw my recommendation.

What about those that have already invested in this protection?


I pushed a bit further and decided to enquire “what are you going to tell those that have already purchased this cover?” Nothing, they told me. “not even at renewal?”. Nope, they said.

So there are now businesses up and down the UK whose insurer knows their contract might be inadequate yet their insurer doesn’t care. Regrettably, this is quite often the case. I’ve reported to the FSA and I’ll let you know how I get on if they ever answer my letter.

Wrap up: Insurance companies have very little idea about customer service because they don’t deal direct with business people.

Top tip: At least annually, you should aim to review the risks to your business assets and business income, and think about what could cause damage to your reputation too.

Who to share this with: Managing Directors, Business Owners & Human Resources specialists.

Categories : Accountants Insurance,All Risks Insurance,Business Insurance,Company Insurance,Customer Service,General Requirements,Liability Insurance,Personal Insurance,Uncategorized Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Solicitors’ “silly season” is not so silly

Posted by 20 August, 2012 (0) Comment

Silly season is upon us and the PI renewal scramble has already started. Yet it isn’t so mad this year. Read on to find out if that is because of the ABS’, SRA or insurers.

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Rates Are Down

Deck of cards on a graph - Business GambleCould it be that insurance companies are being more amenable because there are now fewer firms looking for specialist solicitors indemnity? Their market is shrinking. Perhaps firms set up as ABS’ have found a better way of meeting SRA requirements? Perhaps new regulations for COLPs and COFAs have lead to fewer claims.

It’s more likely that the new entrance into this specialist market have increased competition. This could lead to short term gains and long term pains, like Quinn.

Are New Entrants Good News?

There is a certain amount of irony here. Over the last few years insurance companies have not accepted proposals from solicitors with shaky finances. Yet solicitors will accept quotations from insurance companies they’ve never heard of, with claims departments that may as well be in Timbuktu.

Solicitors seem happy to rely on the fact that SRA approved the new entrants, and brokers are happy to offer the quotations if it secures them a client or renewal.

Memories must be extremely short because the SRA approved Quinn too, and brokers continued to offer Quinn quotations days before they went bust.

Dig A Little Deeper

It’s a good time for solicitors to take their pick from the available insurance companies. I can still see the logic in getting the best rates, reducing costs and ticking the SRA box.

Now the market is competitive again it would be prudent to delve a little deeper into insurance company service. Does the policy provide the right cover – yes. Will you get assistance from the claims department – probably. Will the way the claim is handled meet your expectations… who knows!

Wrap up: COLPs and COFAs – love the role or hate it, they are the people that can implement lessons that businesses have learnt and solicitors have been deprived of. The identification of near misses and risks that solicitors were previously unaware of, will help practises evolve profitably.

Top tip: COLPs and COFAs can reduce costs and increase profits. Undertaking the role properly will mean both can be achieved independently of each other.

Who to share this with: Managing Partners, COLPs and COFAs.

Categories : Accountants Insurance,After The Event,All Risks Insurance,Building Contractor,Business Insurance,Company Insurance,Contractors Insurance,Customer Service,General Requirements,Health & Safety,Legal expenses insurance,Liability Insurance,Litigation expenses insurance,Personal Insurance,Solicitors indemnity,Solicitors insurance,Trade,Uncategorized Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When complainants get tough, the tough respond cordially

Posted by 14 August, 2012 (0) Comment

Business owners dread a call from an unhappy client. This post is about what happens when a meeting causes panic. Read on to find out who is on the receiving end, why it happens, and how to avoid setting dangerous precedents.

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I’ve just had my business arse kicked! Am I covered?


Computer keyboard - Press the "any" keyMike phones me at 4pm on a Monday. It’s immediately clear that he’s flustered. It transpires he has just  left a meeting with a client for whom he has been providing IT services for nearly a year. “I feel like I’ve had a good kicking. We’ve been accused of making mistakes and fraud. I really need to know – am I covered for this, especially if they take action?”

This is not an everyday occurrence in my world, but it happens with enough frequency that we are used to it. We plan for it by making ourselves available every day because we want to help when it’s most needed. Mike was “covered” and I let him know immediately. He wanted a good night’s sleep, and the finer points can be ironed out when full details are known.

So what are the chances of keeping everyone happy all of the time?


I remember when Mike and I first sat down 3 years ago. His business was, and still is, growing rapidly, and clients expectations change all the time too. The main concern at the time was this type of issue, because IT changes as quick as customer expectations. The unfounded allegation of fraud was the result of a “competitor” getting involved.

It is a real blow when a client becomes unhappy. Yet this particular complainant had been egged on by another company, who probably wanted to usurp Mike. The competition went as far as producing a damming report, with a host of allegations that the client could wave in front of Mike, which the client did, with relish.

Apart from shock and horror, are there other issues?


Time. It takes time to answer any complaint. Time should be taken to avoid making the matter worse. What is vital is to take a massive deep breath, work out what has actually happened and make sure communications are clear.

This has since been achieved, and the angry party have calmed down, after they received a considered response. Even so, complainants make unrealistic demands when they’re angry and meetings without agendas set a dangerous precedent.

Wrap up: When a business is growing, learn to expect the unexpected, and plan for it. Keep in mind clients expectations change all the time too, and giving in to unrealistic demands of angry clients is not the most sensible response. Take time out to consider the situation from all angles and ensure all outgoing communications are cordial.

Top tip: In all cases, insurance companies must be kept fully informed of all progress and have lot’s of experience in what works and what doesn’t. It makes sense to lean on them rather than trying to avoid the issue or worry about unlikely premium increases.

Share this with: business owners, service providers, IT people, contractors, and anyone else who gets involved in providing a service to the demanding.

Names have been changed to protect the truly innocent.

Categories : Accountants Insurance,After The Event,All Risks Insurance,Business Insurance,Company Insurance,Customer Service,General Requirements,Legal expenses insurance,Liability Insurance,Litigation expenses insurance,Personal Insurance,Solicitors indemnity,Solicitors insurance,Trade,Uncategorized Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What is the dirty little secret of Insurance? part II

Posted by 12 April, 2012 (0) Comment

I’ve previously posted how your legal expenses cover probably allows you to take action against anyone except your insurance company. The second in this series moves us all towards the sticky wicket of Health & Safety. This week I write about why legislation is a prerequisite to getting claims paid, why insurer’s don’t make it clear that this is part of the insurance contract and how it is kept a secret.

Read Insurance’s dirty little secret – part I

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Why do insurers do this?

They are businesses. The fewer claims they pay the more their shareholders receive. However, they also need to attract customers, and cynically hiding the worst parts of their products and service allows them to do so. They make the cover out to be wide (using terms like comprehensive or all risks) yet the exclusions seem little (fine print).

They will decline the claim of one company on the same day as they accept the proposal of another (almost) identical company. Both companies will have similar risks yet insurance companies know MDs and FDs would not buy from them if there weren’t going to get a ROI.  So they “sell” the benefits and make sure they have room to wriggle in their policy documents. You might only see the detail after you have parted with your premium.


Why is it dirty?

Legislation changes all the time and it’s difficult to keep up with it. Insurers know that businesses struggle, so they provide practical help to the top tier of their clients or those that are extremely high risk. That’s because losses suffered by some businesses are huge and it’s incredibly bad PR for an insurer to decline a ‘front page’ claim.

Brokers know this too.  In a world where every premium increased every year most brokers would be happy. I meet lots of business people who are unaware of important terms and conditions. When a claim is refused or reduced the broker often blames the insurer. Sometimes they charge a client more to move to a different insurance company.


How is it kept secret?

The clause that catches most people out is in nearly every policy. It doesn’t even mention Health & Safety – it’s that ambiguous. It’s not even highlighted in the ‘key facts’ documents that the FSA insist make insurance buying clearer.

I know FDs that have checked insurance for years and never understood what this clause really meant. In black and white; if you are not following every piece of legislation current today you may find that a loss that happens tomorrow is not insured. And if they do pay it you might find your premium increases without a satisfactory explanation.


Wrap up: Are you keeping up with legislation? Insurers expect you to do your bit before they do theirs. An insurance policy isn’t a guarantee. Insurers are obliged to pay out when terms ad conditions of the policy (insurance contract) have been met.


See our top tips section for simple ways to help yourself today.

Categories : Accountants Insurance,After The Event,All Risks Insurance,Building Contractor,Business Insurance,Company Insurance,Contractors Insurance,Customer Service,Health & Safety,Legal expenses insurance,Liability Insurance,Litigation expenses insurance,Personal Insurance,Solicitors indemnity,Solicitors insurance,Trade Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , ,