What you Need to Know About Protecting your IP
“Intellectual property is an important legal and cultural issue. Society as a whole has complex issues to face here: private ownership vs. open source, and so on.” – Tim Berners-Lee
Intellectual property (IP) is often overlooked as to its value, scope and importance within business … particularly with small businesses. There is a lot of specific and complex legislation around protecting your IP and it needs to be considered, not only from what sits within the business, but also any potential areas of other peoples IP you might infringe upon. IP comes in many forms and can be a highly valuable asset for a business.
IP comes in a number of forms but basically it relates to anything unique that you create and is something that is worth protecting. The best resource to check out anything IP related is the Intellectual Property Office website which covers all aspects of protecting your IP … from protecting your rights to checking you aren’t infringing other peoples.
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Copyright is protection which is granted automatically and doesn’t need to be registered. It applies to original work created in areas such as literary works, music and film for example. It can also include things such as technical manuals or website and brochure content. Even though it is an automatic right, as soon as something is created, it still requires the process to be dated and well documented to prove any infringement if you are seeking to protect your ip. Although copyright protection is automatic, you can choose to display the © character to remind people!
Trademarks do carry some automatic protection but because these can be so important from a marketing and saleability of a business, it is always advisable to consider registration (some people consider this to be the most valuable form of IP as a business asset).
Trademarks protect things such as logo’s, brand’s and slogan’s that businesses create as part of their ‘persona’ and are synonymous with the their marketing collateral. There is a cost to registering trade marks but this can be far outweighed by their value (or potential value) to the business. The ® character means that you have formally registered your trademark (and you can only use this if you have indeed completed your registrations) … the ™ characters mean that ‘you are declaring your trademark’ and actually provides no protection
Design rights are, again, automatically protected in relation to the appearance of any object you have designed but like trade marks it is a far better option to register the design to maximise protection from anybody who may copy it. There is a cost but you could decide that not registering a particular design will be detrimental to the business.
Patents relate to the unique functionality and technical aspects of a product and are most commonly associated with “inventions”. They can also be applicable to something as small as the unique configuration of a molecule within a new drug. Patents can be complex and the documentation and registration can be challenging to ensure the protection is water tight and robust. Patents can only apply to anything which has not already been registered and the first step is always to check that no conflicting patents exist.
These are the main areas relating to protecting your IP and the potential value to the business could be considerable. To ensure you maximise its value and provide adequate protection, it is always recommended that you take professional advice from patent or trade mark attorneys. Providers can be found on the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys or Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys but often law firms will have specialist people within the practice.
Detailed information (and registration, where applicable) can be found on the Intellectual Property Office website which would always be the first port of call for anything IP related. In addition, many libraries have IPO sections within them where resources are available (including advice) to support anybody looking to find out more about IP related issues and many of the services are free.
It is worth remembering that –
- As part of the audit trail on developing your IP, use Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA’s) for any discussion you might have with external parties to protect your information.
- Protection in the UK doesn’t mean protection in other countries. If it’s relevant, you need to check the requirements to protect your IP in other territories.
- Research what kind of IP you have in the business and seek to protect it accordingly to maximise its value.
- More than one type of IP right could apply to your unique creation and steps should be taken to protect each one that is relevant.
- If in doubt, seek professional advice. Ultimately the cost will be worth it to ensure the business maximises the value of its IP.
- Don’t forget more obscure forms of IP such as databases, client or market intelligence or trade secrets.
Don’t undervalue your IP. Seek professional advise to ensure you’re protected properly.
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