Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Do you know what's rightfully yours?

Small businesses should not fear the cost of protecting themselves and their work – it could be cheaper than you think.

That’s the message from Stuart Haynes, who said every company – no matter what their size – should make sure they’re fully aware of their intellectual property responsibilities.

“Whether it’s a trading name, design work, trademarks, a customer database or copyright, business owners must identify and assess the IP rights that belong to the business.

"Sadly many small businesses are unaware of their rights, which means they could be at risk and they won’t realise until it’s too late.”

Stuart said it was a common mistake to think that registering a name at Companies House automatically gave a company the right to use a trademark.

“But in reality, trademarks have to be registered separately so another company may actually be the legal owner of the trademark you thought belonged to you.”

He said the main reason most smaller companies failed to identify and protect their intellectual property rights was down to cost.

“It is sometimes true that this can be a complicated area of law, and so expert advice may be needed, but in fact many IP rights can be identified and protected quickly and easily without any cost at all.”

Stuart said the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) had launched a whole new range of free online tools called IP for Business.There are downloadable guides which explain the different kinds of IP rights and also guidance on applying for patents.

“You can also get an IP health check and generate a list of recommended action points to help protect your company at the click of a button, as well as an interactive package to help you understand IP in greater detail. And if you use an Apple or an Android device, there’s the new IP Equip app which you can use wherever you are and at any time.

“Obviously self-help programmes like this can’t replace professional advice altogether, but they will give you a clearer picture of where your company stands, and whether you need to take further action.”

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Hands off the company assets

Directors have been reassured their company assets should not be at risk if they face divorce proceedings.

Nadia Davis, our family law expert said with one in three marriages ending in divorce, it was vital that everyone involved knew where they stood.

“In any divorce case, the assets of the marriage have to be clearly established and then divided fairly between the couple involved. But if either person is a director of a company, it’s important that you know just how far you can go in protecting your company’s assets.”

Nadia said the courts would identify the assets of a marriage as any money and property (including houses, cars and possessions) owned jointly by the couple or separately by one of them.

“If you can’t agree on how to divide these assets, the courts will ask each individual to set out their current financial circumstances and any potential future needs. This means each person will need to give details of their salary, shares, investments, debts and their housing needs. And if there are children involved, their needs will always come first. So if you’re the main or sole carer of the children, in the vast majority of cases you’ll get a larger portion of the assets to cover their needs.”

Nadia said once the children were provided for, or if there were no children involved, the court would take into consideration each side’s finances and share the assets out as appropriate.

“Obviously anything you own either personally or jointly would be included and divided, but what about the assets of any company you may run? The good news is that your company’s assets, such as property, cars or money in the bank are safe – the company has separate legal status meaning it owns these assets directly and so they can’t be included in any negotiations.”

But Nadia warned that a director’s salary, shares and pension would all be closely assessed, and if the company looked likely to be successful in the future, that income could be factored into the settlement.

“And if a director’s spouse has enjoyed a certain standard of lifestyle through the company, such as private health care or a company car, the courts will try to ensure they don’t lose out too.”

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Home workers need to check the rules

If you’ve started working from home, should you be paying business rates? And could you be breaking the law by not displaying your company’s nameplate outside the front door?

With a rapid rise in the number of people using their homes as offices, employment law expert Tina Chander says these are just two issues which should be considered.

“With businesses trying to keep overheads to a minimum, many employees will have been asked to maybe keep stock in their garage, or work remotely from an office at their home,” said Tina, from our commercial team in Telford. “As a general rule of thumb, as long as your property is still mainly used as your home, there won’t be a problem. So a spare room being used as an office, or some non-hazardous stock being stored in the garage, is fine.

“But that does not mean there may not be consequences - you might have to pay business rates. There is no hard and fast rule on this because it is up to every council to decide, in conjunction with the valuation office.”

Tina said there were some common misconceptions over the rules concerning company nameplates.

“Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just the registered office which must show one. Company law says that each and every place at which business is carried on must display a sign showing the registered name.

“However, most people are exempted from this, because one of the exceptions is when the premises is primarily used for living accommodation . . . in other words, your home. So, for most homeworkers, they will not be opening themselves up to extra rates, or breaking the law.

“But you should contact your local council for permission if you intend to use your home regularly for company business. It’s advisable to check first, rather than get hit with a surprise bill later.”