When one of the entrepreneurs responsible for bringing Lara Croft to life urges small businesses to guard and keep ownership of their intellectual property (IP), it’s worth sitting up and taking notice. As one of the stand out messages delivered by Ian Livingstone – a founding father of the UK games industry (remember Dungeons and Dragons?) – at this year’s DE2013:Open Digital conference, I thought it provided a valuable reminder of a key area of risk for SMEs.

More about IP in a second, but the other overriding impression that I took home from attending DE2013 at Salford’s MediaCityUK, was how the sheer power of the internet is transforming our lives. The internet and social media are changing everything. The BBC’s future media team for example was out in force at the conference outlining how they are learning to adapt to their future role where traditional broadcasting is under increasing threat. The age of two screen viewing has firmly arrived with TV playing second fiddle to the tablet that sits on our laps. For the BBC, producing content that works across multiple platforms is essential.

More a marriage than a one night stand
Technology has also transformed businesses’ relationships with their customers. In days gone by, a software provider might supply a product on a disc and that would be the end of it. Today however, products are more like services with customers subscribing to software products rather than making a one off purchase; turning simple transactions into longer term relationships. That’s great from a marketing and sales perspective but it also places far more emphasis on the supplier to maintain a duty of care as far as their clients are concerned and represents an area of added risk.

Look also at how social media has changed customer behaviour. Users are happy to part with vast amounts of their personal information whether it’s on a newly created app or a social networking site. In turn this places added responsibility on the custodians of that information to make sure it stays safe and secure. Businesses are also expected to deliver so much more. Simply having a Facebook page is not enough. Customers want to interact with you 24/7. Getting it right when it comes to social media requires a real investment.

Another thing that impressed me from the conference is the growing number of incubators available to small tech businesses. Jon Corner, CEO of, The Landing, an impressive 53,000 sq ft space where SMEs and micro-businesses can work alongside large media and technology organisations, made a strong pitch for the technology and innovation services on offer for SMEs at MediaCityUK. One particular example that stood out was Cathy Cross from 4DCreative, a company that creates interactive and immersive digital environments for teachers and pupils.

Which brings me back to your IP. Once you’ve had a great idea, the key is to not only hold on to it but also to take care to protect yourself. We’ve seen claims for example made against tech and media firms for areas such as infringement of IP rights and IP theft. Making sure your professional indemnity cover will give you comprehensive protection in this area is critical. Oh, and if you have a potential Lara Croft on your hands, don’t let her out of your sight!