They may seem vague and abstract, but there's tremendous value in intellectual assets and many companies are missing out, according to the Intellectual Assets Centre (IAC).
This intangible arsenal could include anything from trademarks and patents to design rights and secret recipes. Often a business's reputation for quality and its unique character hinges on precisely these things, says IAC chief executive Iain Russell.
The IAC, based in Glasgow and a subsidiary of Scottish Enterprise and Highlands & Islands Enterprise, spends most of its time helping small companies in Scotland realise future growth by protecting such overlooked areas.
"Uniqueness is a key competitive advantage. The more you can make your business unique, the more you can protect it and expand it," says Russell. "We estimate that 80% of a business's value is intangible."
However, valuing intellectual assets can be problematic, he says. "Accounting is often based on concrete transactions. But the area of valuing intellectual property is becoming more established."
If someone steals your idea, they are taking away your potential income, says Russell. Case studies are often an important way to illustrate this. For example, Charcuterie Continental, based in Airdrie, Lanarkshire, has had great success with its McTavish's Haggis brand, eventually marketing various other products under the name. But its progress could have been severely curtailed if it hadn't taken the trouble to safeguard the brand.
Specialist know-how can be lost with the move of even a single individual to a rival firm. "Protect your key know-how, particularly in a smaller organisation, where the loss of one person can have a dramatic impact," advises Russell.
But if you tie workers into employment contracts forbidding them to carry trade secrets with them, you cover yourself. "Make sure employment contracts are clear about protecting intellectual assets," he says.