Many Scottish entrepreneurs have ambitions to break into overseas markets to reach a global audience.
When doing so there are many different things to think about, from marketing and distribution, to language and culture.
Another area that should not be overlooked is having a sound business strategy in place to protect valuable intellectual property. Failing to give enough thought to patents, trade marks and registered designs can prove expensive for all businesses, but especially smaller ones.
Wendy Crosby, director of patents at Murgitroyd, a global firm of intellectual property (IP) attorneys headquartered in Scotland with offices across Europe and the US, has advised many firms on how to protect their intellectual assets in global markets – and how to avoid costly pitfalls.
Crosby explains: “The successful launch of new products and services in a new territory requires a global strategy that deals with the many, varied and often specific local business and IP issues which arise.”
Crosby says there are various routes a company might take to protect themselves. They might choose to file a patent, or a registered design which can be a more cost-effective option for products with a short shelf-life, or go for a trade mark to protect brand names and logos.
One Scottish company that has benefited from Murgitroyd’s advice when expanding internationally is Beast Gear. The Aberdeen-headquartered firm is a brand of fitness equipment and clothing which sells all its products online through its own site and Amazon.
It sells to a range of customers, from weightlifters and boxers to general gym goers, in its home market and overseas and has trade marks protecting its brand in the UK, Australia, Europe and China.
Beast Gear director Ben Leonard, who founded the firm in 2016, says: “Make sure you go to a good IP attorney when you’re getting protected. You might think you can pretty cheaply do it yourself and that can be a stopgap, but you quickly discover, when you speak to the experts, that if you had taken their advice in the first place you could have protected your IP more broadly.”
Leonard says a challenge for Beast Gear arose when a well-known brand and market leader in a certain product area wrongly accused his business of infringing its design registration. This market leader wrote to Amazon accusing Beast Gear of infringement and its product was suspended from the site which resulted in lost sales.
He explains: “This was basically a case of bullying by a huge brand trying to scare me. We’re selling our product now but if I hadn’t had advice from Murgitroyd, the chances are I would just have done what I was being asked to do by the larger firm.”
Another firm advised by Murgitroyd is Aberdeen-based Balmoral Offshore Engineering which targeted Brazil as one of its key markets when expanding overseas.
Fraser Milne, engineering and projects director at Balmoral, says that Murgitroyd helped it understand what protection it required before it started selling its products in Brazil.
He says: “We had to make sure that the products we were putting into Brazil had patent coverage not only in the UK but also in key markets globally. Competitors overseas can start copying your product and, all of a sudden, it is being made by others who might not understand it and are potentially making it more cheaply.”
Balmoral says that Mugitroyd helps it keep track of when patents are due to expire and decide which markets it actually needs protection in to avoid unnecessary over-spending.
“It’s key to think of long-term objectives for your products. If you think short term you’re going to lose,” says Milne.
The experiences of Beast Gear and Balmoral show that no matter the size of the company - from relatively small and newly formed to large scale and well established - it is vital to adopt appropriate strategies at different times to navigate through the minefield of foreign IP issues. These include highly specific rules and regulations, foreign language challenges and local business etiquette to name but a few.
Crosby summarised that seeking advice at an early stage helps companies to select the best strategy for each country and maximise the value of their IP portfolio.