The law surrounding the protection of distinctive business ideas (such as business names, materials, inventions, and product designs) is known as Intellectual Property law. It is relevant to every type of business – from a family owned manufacturer of jewellery to a global brand like Coca-Cola.
What is Intellectual Property (IP)?
IP can be generated through commercial activities such as research and development, a manufacturing process or a creative action such as writing lyrics or a novel. There are four main areas of IP: copyright, trademark, design rights and patents. All four types of IP can be protected at the UK Intellectual Property Office – but not all need to be.
- Copyright applies to original work that is recorded in some way, such as written down, recorded video or sound. The author of the original work will have copyright in what they have created. Copyright is an automatic right – it can be registered, but doesn’t need to be.
- A trademark is a distinctive name or logo that identifies a business or other organisation. UK trademarks should generally be registered in order to protect them from being used by others.
- Design rights differ depending on whether they are registered or unregistered. They attach to designs recorded on paper or if an article has been made according to that design. An unregistered design right protects only the outward form of the design; whereas a registered design right protects the design as a whole.
- Patents protect industrial processes and inventions. They give the holder of the patent the exclusive right to use that process or invention for a period of time.
How can I protect my IP?
- Originality – Your idea, name or work, needs to be original in order to be capable of protection; you don’t want to go through the expense of designing a logo and branding your idea all to find out else is already using the same, or a very similar logo. This is a complex area and it is advisable to consider seeking legal advice here.
- Confidentiality is key to protecting IP rights that may be created in the course of business - if you tell other people of your original business idea you will want to make sure that they cannot steal it. It is advisable to include express obligations of confidentiality in your contracts to protect your business, and also express provisions which clarify that any IP rights created by employees or consultants while working for you are to be owned by you, and not by them.
- Evidence – Ensure you keep all evidence that relates to the generating of your idea, any emails, drawings, notes; anything relating to the development of your IP. It’s especially useful to keep evidence that confirms the date you created the IP
- Register your IP with the Intellectual Property Office in a timely manner. By way of example a UK patent can take up to 4-6 years in some instances, whereas other sorts of IP are usually quicker. In some cases additional avenues might be available to you to speed up the processing of a patent application, for example the Green Channel, which accelerates the registration process if their invention has an environmental benefit.
- Worldwide protection? It may be sensible to protect your IP outside the UK. This will mean you will need separate trademarks, international patents and design registration.
- Care for your IP – treat it with the care it deserves and look after your IP. Keep disclosure to a minimum; other than in confidentiality agreements the details of a design or creative work should not be shared with anyone outside of the scope of your business. Limit access to sensitive information, only employees or contractors who need access should be given it.
- Protect it from infringement. Online infringement is becoming more and more common, so frequent searches and checks should be carried out to make sure imitators are not taking advantage of your IP. The infringement of an IP right is a civil matter in the case of patents, trademarks, designs and copyright. In the case of trademarks and copyright the act may also constitute a criminal offence.
- Prepare for the fact that you may well have to take civil legal action for IP infringement, and it is sensible to budget for this if the infringer does not respond to a simple request to stop the infringement.
The team at Ronald Fletcher Baker offer a full service to protect your IP assets, from technology ideas for Apps to copyright infringements, they are well versed in helping ensure that your business idea is protected both online and offline.
Contact the team if you have any queries on 0207 613 7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org"