If I said it was high time you got yourself to an intellectual property (IP) workshop for dentists, you might think I was slightly off track with my coaching strategy.
However, if you’re a dental entrepreneur, chances are at some point, the question of intellectual property will come onto your radar.
In fact, now more so than ever, if you haven’t thought about your dental business IP, you could be making a big – and costly – mistake.
Understanding intellectual property for dentists is not only important for brand ownership. It is vitally important for protecting a business asset with the power to create leverage.
Although protecting your IP may not make it to your ‘to do’ list today, it would be wise to think about when it might.
Acting at the right time, and implementing the right protection, is what distinguishes dental entrepreneurs from regular practice owners. And as IP becomes a broader business issue, we’ll see more people taking this topic seriously.
Want to know more? Read on!
The Most Important IP For Any Dental Practice Is Their Brand (so protect it!)
I may sound like I’m stating the obvious, but you’d be surprised the number of business owners (not just dentists) who don’t place a value on their brand.
Now just to be clear, a brand is not a business name, company name, trademark or domain name. A brand is the sign that’s used to distinguish your services from those of other traders. It can be a logo or a name. It can even be packaging design and colours.
Don’t confuse a brand with goodwill, which is an accounting value that’s put on intellectual property. Intellectual property protection is about protecting the business name, as opposed to the personal name of the individual practitioner.
A brand is protected by a trademark. While you might register a company name with ASIC, this offers your brand almost zero protection for intellectual property. Protection like this just doesn’t stop another trader from using a similar name.
However, when a trademark is registered, it gives your business a monopoly in that particular trademark.
Call it an advantage if you like, but a trademark provides clarity and certainty. It also provides a whole lot of brand protection.
Pick A Brand That’s Distinctive
While Dentists are generally a very technically astute bunch, we’re really only warming up to the idea of entrepreneurialism and creativity.
This shows up in ways like: we prefer to blend in rather than stand out when it comes to business names and branding.
But a little creativity goes a long way in this area.
Super important in the world of intellectual property protection, a more distinctive brand will means you have a better chance of securing your IP.
The bottom line? Be brave enough to stand out.
If you have a business name that’s not distinctive enough, you’ll have a limited chance of securing the trademark registration you’re after.
Act Sooner, Not Later to Protect Intellectual Property for Dentists
Why is this so important?
The number one reason it’s important is that Australia is a ‘first to use’, rather than a ‘first to file’ jurisdiction.
How the first to use rule works is like this:
Practice A first uses their mark in 2010 but doesn’t register it until 2018.
Practice B files for the same trademark in 2014 four years prior to Practice A and think they own the trademark.
Actually, when business A decides to register their mark in 2018, they are the owners of that trademark. And there’s nothing Practice B can do about it.
This situation is avoided by a couple of simple actions.
If you’re only just starting out in practice, it’s the ideal time to make a mark in the sand. For somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000, a dental practice can register their trademark. A simple, well-timed step like this can save heartache, hassles and a pile of cash down the track.
The second practical thing a dental entrepreneur can take is by completing the right kind of search. Lawyers practising in this area can perform this task. They will search business names, company names, domain names and general internet usage to determine if your trademark ensure is ‘clean’.
As far as possible, you want to avoid having to file a trademark retrospectively. It’s far more preferable to act sooner, rather than later to protect your intellectual property assets.
Work With An Intellectual Property Expert
Life is busy as a practising dentist, which means our bandwidth for diving deep into specialist areas can be limited.
Work with someone who knows their way around intellectual property protection. It is well worth the investment.
An experienced IP lawyer can do the relevant searches, prepare paperwork, and file applications. They can also advise when renewal dates are approaching and take care of that process too.
The fixed fee that is typically charged for this kind of work is worth every cent of the peace of mind it provides.
Use Your Brand Consistently
When it comes to smart intellectual property protection, it’s good business to keep your brand consistent.
I could understand you asking: Isn’t this obvious, Jesse?
Well, not really. Over time, as we evolve, so does our business. And, so do the ways we want the business represented.
At key points in business growth or change, many business owners decide to rebrand. This is not a problem of itself. However, if you are trading using a non-distinctive brand, in future you may struggle to register that trademark. It is particularly difficult to get registration over the line if you’ve used multiple marks within a ten-year period.
The key here is consistency.
Taking steps to protect your intellectual property might not be your highest priority right now. However, at some point, every savvy dentist should give it some conscious thought.
Forward thinking and pre-emptive action is always preferable to an expensive headache down the track.