World IP Day 2021 – how SMEs can understand and leverage intellectual property

It is no secret that SMEs are one of the most important pillars of global prosperity and this is just as true for intellectual property. According to WIPO director Darren Tang “SMEs are the unsung heroes and engines of the economy, and yet for many of them, there is still a lack of knowledge on how IP can translate ideas into products and services, and how IP can be a powerful tool for them not just to survive, but also to compete and grow”. To celebrate SMEs, and the vast economic contributions that they make to society, the 2021 theme for World IP Day is ‘intellectual property and SMEs – taking your ideas to market’.

SMEs that successfully leverage intellectual property have a tremendous advantage, but intellectual property is often complex and hard to understand – especially for SMEs. These entities, by nature, are often successful because they focus on one core business at which they excel and intellectual property can seem tangential to that. Further, SMEs typically have limited resources that must be used judiciously, so engaging the invaluable but expensive expertise provided by law firms, consultancies and other specialised IP advisors is not always an option.

Fortunately, there are many excellent and practical resources that SMEs can use to learn about IP including (but not limited to) the three outlined below.

WIPO and national and intergovernmental patent offices

In preparation for World IP Day, WIPO has released extensive learning resources for SMEs eager to know more about intellectual property, including a series of case studies highlighting how SMEs have successfully used intellectual property to help their business, and an interactive map of institutions providing advice and support for SMEs around the world.

National and intergovernmental patent offices (eg, the EPO) also offer resources for SMEs. These entities should start with their home patent office, as there may be IP considerations that are unique to their country or region, but learning material such as that provided by the EPO has useful information for any SME.

University and legal IP clinics

Universities and law schools around the world frequently offer pro bono legal services to SMEs in exchange for providing real-world IP experience to students, under the supervision of experienced faculty and IP professionals. Depending on the country in which an SME is based, there may be a formal programme set up by that country’s patent office to certify participating clinics, such as the USPTO’s Law School Clinic Certification Programme.


Intellectual property is an important consideration for any SME, from the technology start-up that must use patents to support a round of investment to the independent video game developer that depends on copyright law to protect its software. In the words of Tang: “Whatever help we can render to our SMEs, will be help that we render to the bedrock of your economy, and the backbone of the global economy. Ultimately, it will help our world to build back better.”

This is an Insight article, written by a selected partner as part of IAM's co-published content. Read more on Insight

Unlock unlimited access to all IAM content