Becky Pickford, intellectual property paralegal, explains what IP is and why it is relevant no matter what your business or industry.
What is intellectual property?
Intellectual Property (IP) refers to property of an individual or legal entity that is intangible.
There are four key areas of IP – copyright, trade mark, designs and patents.
Copyright is an automatically occurring right that exists every time an idea is expressed in a tangible form (e.g. when pen is put to paper). It is not possible to register copyright in the UK however there are a number of actions you can take to protect the materials you have created. The © symbol should appear on all material you create together with the year date and name of the owner of the copyright.
Proving ownership of copyright material can be difficult. A historic method to prove copyright ownership was to send the materials to yourself via the post and leave the parcel/envelope unopened. This method is not infallible and as such cannot be relied upon in an infringement case. Instead a secure storage service where you retain a receipt of materials (preferably from a regulated professional such as a solicitor) can be really important evidence in an infringement case.
Where a third party is commissioned to create a copyright work, for example a website or logo, then the person who creates that work will own the copyright in it, even if they are paid for that work. Assignment of the IP should be sought in these situations.
Businesses create vast amounts of copyright, if an employee creates copyright materials in the course of their employment and not outside the cope of their job role then the employer will own all IP created.
A trade mark is a badge of origin, in other words a trade mark should reassure consumers that they are purchasing goods or services from a recognised source. A registered trade mark provides a government monopoly over the mark. This means that no one else should be able to use the mark within the registered territory, for goods and services that are the same or similar to those the mark is registered for.
If a third party should use a identical or similar mark, a registered trade mark owner can enforce their rights and stop any third party from using an infringing mark. A registered trade mark is a powerful and valuable right that can add value to a businesses bottom line.
For the reasons given above it is important that a trade mark is filed correctly, with the correct specification and that trade mark portfolios are managed properly.
A design registration protects the way something looks e.g. the shape, configuration and decoration of objects. The design should be represented in line or CAD drawings to protect the object only – a photograph may be found invalid if it does not accurately show the object only.
A design right helps to protect a product design and should be sought to stop others from producing a similar design of product. This can be a useful registered right to bolster a businesses portfolio when facing infringing third parties.
Although the most commonly referred to intellectual property right, a patent is likely the least suitable right for many businesses. A patent protects the way something works.
In order to obtain a patent for your product or methodology, the subject of the patent must be original and new and must be kept secret. If “prior art” (a pre-existing invention) exists your patent may be declared invalid.
A patent is a huge investment in both time and money, you should seek advice at the earliest opportunity to ensure a patent is the correct method of protection and that you will see a return in your investment.
If granted a patent can protect a businesses invention for up to 20 years which can allow you to build a reputable brand before any other third party can produce products with the same invented elements.