A recession fosters innovation. New ideas develop, and new products, but have you retained the intellectual property (IP) of your fledgling enterprise? If the answer is no, or if you do not know, then read on – and check if your lawyer works Sundays.

There are two categories of intellectual property – those that should be registered and those that don't have to be. Registered IP comprises patents, trademarks and designs, whereas IP that does not have to be registered comprises trade secrets, confidential information and know-how.

Copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted by law to the author or creator of an original work. It has been given statutory effect in Ireland by the Copyright and Related Rights Act, and even extends to computer-generated works. Common to all these forms of intellectual property is the inherent value, and that value must be protected. It is therefore advisable to consult an intellectual property expert about a formal registration of any ideas, patents, trademarks or designs you may have.

With other forms of intellectual property, the general rule is that an employer will by default retain the rights, but it is best practice expressly to reserve ownership within the employment contract. Furthermore, trade secrets and confidential information should be defined in the contract – it usually includes trade secrets that relate to commercial and/ or manufacturing processes (such as how they get the figs in Fig Rolls) and customer lists.

Employees exposed to trade secrets have a duty not to disclose them. It is crucially important, therefore, that you consider what to do if an ex-employee sets up in competition to you. A non-solicitation clause for existing employees can protect against this. A non-compete clause may preclude an employee from directly competing with you for a time, but this cannot be too restrictive. The generally accepted duration is 12 months from termination of the contract.

It may be time for a full audit of your IP and interests. What may seem of negligible value today may be your millions in the making.

Oisín Scollard is barrister and consultant with employment law firm www.employmentclinic.ie

Twitter: @oscollard