Your 60-Second Guide to Protecting Intellectual Property

Imagine working for months or even years on a new idea; toiling nights, and weekends, only to have your efforts duplicated wholesale by another business or person.  Such an outcome is potentially devastating, but more importantly, avoidable, if you understand intellectual property (IP) protection.  In this article, we will provide an overview of what constitutes IP, and the options available for ensuring it is legally protected.

What constitutes Intellectual Property?

According to the World Intellectual Property Office, IP refers to “creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce”[1].  As such, the breadth of creations that could be classified as IP is vast, including recipes, formulas, inventions, written work, music, movies, art, brands, features, software, and sounds.

But not anyone can claim IP as their own; you can legally own IP if you were the original creator, purchased it from the original creator or previous owner, or hold a trademarked brand.  IP can be owned by a one or more people or businesses, and importantly can be sold or transferred to another entity or person/s.

What are IP rights?

IP law exists to protect creative ideas and inventions, therefore encouraging new ideas to flourish.  As such, it is a vital enabler of a flourishing economy as those who invest their time and efforts into an endeavour can rightly reap the rewards of their work.  IP rights, therefore, provide the legal mechanism to ensure protection for those who own IP; these fall into four main categories:

Patents

Patents are designed to protect an inventor’s right to their invention and will typically include the specification (a detailed written description of the invention and sometimes a detailed diagram), and the claims (describing which aspects of the invention for which protection is being sought).  Patents are registered within each country in which protection is required and will typically last for 20 years.

Trade-marks

Trade-marks are commonly used to protects brands (i.e. logos, brand names, colours, slogans etc.), with the aim of clearly distinguishing the goods and services of one company from any other.  Trade-marks can even be sought for smells, shapes, and packaging, and as with patents, must be registered in each country individually (at the respective IP office or trade-mark registry), and can be renewed on an indefinite basis.

Designs

Design law exists to make sure the appearance of a protected product cannot be copied to give the impression it is the same as the original.  In IP parlance, designs refer to a part or the whole of a product, in particular, its shape, configuration or appearance, and maybe two or three dimensional in form.  Design rights can be complex in nature as there are different types which in the UK, including registered and unregistered community designs applicable across the EU.

Copyright

Copyright law exists to provide recognition of the creative work of authors.  As the name suggests, copyright refers to the right to copy a piece of work, held by the copyright owner.  To be protected by copyright law, it is necessary for your work to be both original and tangible (i.e. expressed in a physical form).  Within the UK, copyrights are applied automatically from the date of creation for the life of the author, plus an additional 70 years.

In addition, there are several other forms of IP rights including:

  • database rights
  • plant variety rights
  • trade secrets
  • confidential information
  • semiconductor topography rights

Licensing and infringement of IP Rights

IP rights can be licensed as a whole entity or in part and can even be used as security or mortgaged.  But how can IP rights be transferred? IP rights can be transferred from one entity to another using assignment; essentially handing over the ownership for an item of IP.  This is seen commonly when the original or current owner of the IP no longer wishes to leverage the right they hold, or they do not possess the resources required to exploit it.  Once the IP is assigned, the old owner no longer has any right to the IP.

In situations whereby the owner wishes to retain ownership of IP but grant permission for one or more persons or entities to use the right, licensing can be a highly flexible and potentially lucrative model of IP protection.

Anyone who uses your IP without license or permission will be deemed to have infringed your IP rights.  It is recommended that as the owner of IP, you become aware of any potential infringement of your property, and consider taking legal action if this is discovered, especially if you are likely to or are already losing revenue.

In conclusion

Intellectual property rights can ensure your hard-earned work is protected from the theft and misuse of another person or company.  Infringements of IP are not only unjust, they can cause businesses to fail and lead to severe reputation damage.  Don’t let your hard-won property fall into the hands of others – by implementing the necessary legal protection, you can rest assured you have the law on your side should a breach of your rights occur, allowing you to continue investing in and growing your business.

Bennett Griffin are award-winning solicitors based in West Sussex with offices in central Worthing and Ferring.  Our commercial law department can advise and assist you in relation to protecting your IP.  Please contact us on 01903 229 999 or by email at info@bennett-griffin.co.uk for more information.

The information contained in this article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be legal advice. Professional advice should always be taken on the application of the law in any particular situation.

[1] http://www.wipo.int/about-ip/en/