The ‘Next Normal’: why SMEs will be the first responders

The global business community is experiencing the biggest challenge since the Second World War: the COVID-19 pandemic. In a six month period there has been a seismic change to our lives and livelihoods. Already there is talk about the ‘Next Normal’: how economies will find fresh revenue streams; how the workforce will adapt by reskilling or upskilling; how we will all move forward from this? One sector of the economy best positioned to adapt and survive is SMEs, as they tend to be more customer orientated and understand the needs of the local community.

So how can they move forward? What are the key challenges? And where are the future opportunities? Here Barker Brettell has teamed up with product design consultancy Simple Design Works to identify five issues affecting SMEs today, and explain how design technology and Intellectual Property (IP) can help protect entrepreneurial creativity and investment:

Collaboration: think carefully before sharing your industrial knowhow

At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, many SMEs diversified to support the production of equipment in short supply. This was especially true in the manufacture of ventilators and hospital equipment, which we have discussed in an earlier article. Much of this innovation was based on reverse engineering – existing technology which is then adapted to create a new product. It also was a collaborative period where businesses that previously had no cause to work together, did. In times of crisis, this type of working environment is inspiring and necessary. But what happens when the crisis moves on? Who owns the IP to a product two or more separate entities have developed together? And most importantly, who will benefit financially? This topic is discussed in more detail here which stresses the importance of thinking carefully before sharing your industrial knowhow and IP with an external organisation.

Goodwill innovation: remain focused on your entrepreneurial roots

Companies often feel the pressure to be innovative and ahead of the curve, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. It may feel selfish, but by putting IP at the core of your entrepreneurial roots you will help protect long term investment and market share. If you think that you are helping the greater good of the community by omitting to cover your invention by employing IP rights, it may ultimately backfire – a competitor could still copy your innovation and register the IP themselves. Ownership gives you the power to decide whether to monetise or allow the community free access to those IP rights.

Rushing to market: resist the pressure to cut corners

This can be frustrating when a business can see a new opportunity, but we urge you to resist the impulse to rush the process of product development and its launch. This process is described in more detail in this article, but completing a feasibility study will help test technology functionality, appropriate and cost effective manufacturing methods, or identify if further analysis is required. Once this is agreed patent, trade mark and registered design rights can be filed, and the product can be securely unveiled to the world.

Budget restrictions: prioritise your future

Keeping a close watch on cash flow is especially important during uncertain times, but there are a number of additional resources and initiatives you can utilise to ensure that an innovative business survives and thrives. You can find more information here.

Creatively inspiring business

Nobody can accurately predict the future business landscape in our post-COVID world but by developing, investing in, and protecting today’s inventions, we generate the revenue that will support tomorrow’s innovation. The SME community will manage and adapt to those changes. How we work, live and spend our leisure time. These are the big questions in entrepreneurs’ minds. We want to be part of this process. Let us be your innovation enablers.

If you would like to discuss this article in more detail, please contact your usual Barker Brettell attorney or visit our website.