Intellectual property rights for SMEs: A roadmap for growth in uncertain times

, Intellectual property rights for SMEs: A roadmap for growth in uncertain times

For some SMEs, the thoughts of registering IPRs can seem like an administrative mountain to climb.

Every business starts with an idea. That idea is an essential intellectual property asset that can drive business development, economic recovery, and human progress. While the opportunities are enormous, each business, regardless of its size, is focused on a core idea or service that differentiates itself from other enterprises and competitors. Protecting an idea is protecting a business and the role that intellectual property rights (IPR) ownership plays cannot be underestimated in securing the future of small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

SMEs are the backbone and drivers of the global economy. A study carried out jointly by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) and the European Paten Office (EPO) in 2021 estimates that SMEs that own IPRs have a 68% higher revenue base per employee than those without. Measures to contain COVID-19 outbreaks have had a devastating effect on South-East Asian economies. With the ongoing global uncertainty, IPR ownership offers the added potential to future-proof SMEs in terms of resilience, competitiveness, and reputation.

Besides the challenges, Covid-19 has also brought the opportunities for SMEs to accelerate and comprehensively transform to digital operation. Nowadays, IPRs become an essential corporate asset when the infringement of IPRs in the digital world is increasing. In the seminar “Consultation on the project of amending and supplementing the IP Law” (expected to be submitted to the National Assembly in May 2022), IPRs in the digital world were especially interested by the lawyers and delegates.

My Holland,  founder and CEO of EQuest Asia is acutely aware of the importance of IPR ownership and its value as a business asset especially in navigating through these challenging times.  “Other companies often attempt to copy our methodology and approaches. It is essential to show that we own the idea, the concept and that we are original thought leaders”, said Ms. Holland. Overall, IPR ownership has been crucial to leveraging and consolidating EQuest Asia’s reputation in the Vietnamese market, one of several markets in the South East-Asia region, which is becoming a global innovation hub with many international businesses expanding their operations there.

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Nowadays, the benefits of IPR ownership extend well beyond the traditional boundaries of preventing anti-forgery protection and infringement. In an ever-changing, globalised economy, its evolution continues to expand due to the rise of what has been coined by experts as the knowledge-based economy or cognitive capitalism. SMEs’ core activities rely less and less on structures that produce goods and services. For Ms Holland, knowledge has been key to the ongoing growth success of EQuest.

However, for some SMEs, the thoughts of registering IPRs can seem like an administrative mountain to climb. Ms Holland’s advice to those SMEs who have not yet acquired IPR ownership is to “dive in and invest their time in doing it”. In this regard, Benoît Tardy, IP Business Advisor of the South-East Asia IP SME Helpdesk, shared that “the best IP strategy is to know and understand your assets, identify the type of IP rights which may protect your business and then combine different layers of protection.”

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Tiago Guerreiro, Project Leader of IP Key South-East Asia (SEA), an EU-funded project supporting IP rights protection and enforcement across South-East Asia, added that “a proactive approach is essential to safeguarding the core ideas of SMEs through IPR ownership, in order to facilitate building stronger, more competitive, and resilient businesses especially during times of great economic certainty”.

Up till now, comparing with the provisions of the TRIPS Agreement and the European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), Vietnam’s IP protection system is relatively completed. However, in reality, the enforcement of IPRs is still limited, the effectiveness of the system of regulations on IPR protection is still low, transparency and strictness in law enforcement have many issues that need to be considered, etc. Therefore, the consultancy with the IP Support Office and IP Key Southeast Asia (SEA) project are extremely necessary for a clear and effective orientation to improve the IPR enforcement in practice of SMEs in the Vietnam market.

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