IP Management:

IP Guide for SMEs

Intellectual Property (IP) Guide for Small- and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs)

Why is IP Crucial for Marketing the Products or Services of Your SME?


By World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO)

Intellectual Property Rights and Marketing

Marketing Your Products and Services in the New Economy

For most small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), marketing products or services is a major challenge. A marketing strategy should establish a clear link between your products or services and your SME, as the producer or provider of such products or services. That is to say, customers should be able to distinguish, at a glance, between your products or services and those of your competitors and associate them with certain desired qualities.

Intellectual property, when efficiently used, is an important tool in creating an image for your business in the minds of your current and potential customers and in positioning your business in the market. IP rights, combined with other marketing tools (such as advertisements and other sales promotion activities) are crucial for:

  • Differentiating your products and services and making them easily recognizable

  • Promoting your products or services and creating a loyal clientele

  • Diversifying your market strategy to various target groups

  • Marketing your products or services in foreign countries (see “How can Intellectual Property Enhance the Export Opportunities of Your SME?")

  • Intellectual Property Rights and Marketing


    Different IP rights may contribute to your marketing strategy in different ways:

    Trade and Service Marks

    A well-crafted mark is often a decisive tool for the success of your SME in the market place. It will enable consumers to distinguish products or services of your SME from those of your competitors and to associate your products or services with desired qualities. Furthermore, it may play an important part in the ability of your product or service to penetrate a new market, especially if care was taken while selecting or creating the mark so that it appeals to the target market. It is crucial that you search for conflicting marks prior to filing an application or using a new mark on your products or services. For this purpose, you may wish to use the services of a competent attorney or agent. This would save your SME from incurring unnecessary expenses if there is already an identical or conflicting mark in the target market (see "Conducting Trademark Searches").

    Collective Marks

    The use of a collective mark (by a cooperative or an association of enterprises) allows the member SMEs to benefit from a reputation acquired on the basis of the common origin or other common characteristics of the goods produced or services rendered by different enterprises. This is, particularly, the case where the origin or other common characteristics are the main contributing factor in determining the quality or good taste of a product or service. The use of a collective mark may foster an alliance or facilitate cooperation with other SMEs so as to take full advantage of common resources.

    Industrial Designs

    In today’s highly competitive global economy, a visually attractive design alone may enable you to captivate a demanding and extremely diversified clientele. Through creative designs, your SME could reach out to and appeal to diverse groups of customers from different age groups, regions, cultures, etc. Having design rights on an attractive shape or style of a product may give you the much-needed edge over the competition.

    Geographical Indications

    Inherent in certain products from a particular region are characteristics that are due to the soil, climate or particular expertise of the people of that area which consumers of those products expect and have confidence in. Capitalizing on that reputation for your products that emanate from such area or benefit from such skills in your marketing strategy makes sound business sense in differentiating your products from those of others. It is important to note that in the case of such products, your SME must maintain the standards and quality expected of goods produced in that region or with such expertise.


    The market for your newly introduced product can effectively be protected by obtaining patent protection. Being a patent holder can also open other business avenues such as licensing or strategic alliances (see “How do you Turn Inventions Into Profit-making Assets of Your SME”).

    Utility Models

    Effective utilization of utility models, where such protection is available, can help your SME stay abreast of its competitors. If strategically used, the protection of utility models can be an effective tool in positioning your SME in the marketplace especially if your SME is active in a business where technological advantage plays an important role in determining who holds a larger share of the market. By paying close attention to your competitors’ products and their promise of benefits, you can always improve products of your SME in order to provide the same or even greater benefits and protect your innovation as utility models, especially if the criteria of patentability are not fully met.


    Marketing Your Products and Services in the New Economy

    Impact of Electronic Commerce on IP and Your SME

    While the Internet can open a lot of opportunities for SMEs, it may also pose a number of challenges for the effective protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, in general, and for copyright and related rights, trademarks and patents, in particular. The protection of copyright and related rights in the digital environment, the protectability of e-commerce business methods by patents, the use of trademarks as “metatags” and keywords, the infringement of trademark rights through the use of a sign on the Internet, the scope of protection of well-known marks and unfair competition in electronic commerce are some of the controversial issues and challenges which your SME may have to face. For further information, see Intellectual Property in E-Commerce.

    Domain Names

    If you intend to do business via the Internet then you need an Internet address, technically known as a domain name. In spite of their different function, domain names often conflict with marks which are used to identify and distinguish your products or services from those of your competitors. Your SME should, therefore, avoid using a domain name that is already protected by another enterprise as a mark. When your SME is faced with the use of its mark as a domain name by a competitor, you may wish to seek advice on how a dispute can be settled efficiently and at a reasonable cost. While conflicts between marks and domain names can be resolved in courts, many SMEs may prefer to take advantage of faster and cheaper special procedures under alternative dispute settlement mechanisms (see IP Issues When you Design and Build Your Web Site). WIPO's Domain Name Dispute Resolution Services is a leading institution in this area.

    Getting the Best out of Intellectual Property Protection

    To make sure that your marketing program gets the best out of your IP rights, the following points are worth considering:


  • Register or seek protection of your IP assets at the earliest in order to take full advantage of your IP rights while undertaking advertising and other promotional activities.

  • Check carefully to make sure that your SME does not infringe the IP rights of others. In this respect, it is advisable to conduct trademarks and patent searches before commercializing products and services which may conflict with the IP rights protected by other persons or enterprises.

  • Use, or make reference to, your IP rights in your advertisements and other promotional activities in order to make your customers and potential customers aware of the IP protection of your products and services.

  • Monitor the market and be ready to contact an IP lawyer or an official enforcement authority wherever you detect infringement of your IP rights that may be damaging your SME’s profits or reputation (see "What Should Your SME do to Resolve Disputes Related to Intellectual Property?"). IP rights in fact allow you to fight unauthorized copying, imitation and other kinds of infringement. National legislation or case law may also provide protection against unfair competition, such as false allegations aimed at discrediting your products or services, allegations aimed at misleading the public as to the characteristics of your products and services and acts which aim at creating confusion with your products and services.