Protecting your IP
Welcome to Protecting Your IP.
- What intellectual property do you own?
- What considerations should you take into account? What intellectual property is worth protecting?
- What are the different types of IP protection?
Your intellectual property is the product of the creativity of your business. Like any other property it can be bought, sold or licensed. Because it is valuable it is worth protecting.
Moving your business into overseas markets requires you to review the protection of your intellectual property. You are exposing yourself to wider risk and the protection you enjoy in the UK may not extend abroad.
Why would you want to review your intellectual property (IP) when you export?
There are probably three reasons why you might want to review your intellectual property, your IP, when you engage with overseas markets.
Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, as you move out into wider markets more people will see what you do and may take advantage of your know-how by copying you. Different cultures have different attitudes towards intellectual property and there are plenty of experiences of unscrupulous behaviour.
Secondly, you may not have thought about the fact that you might accidentally infringe someone else’s IP. You could, for example, launch in an overseas market without being aware that someone else is already trading under the same name. Better to find out in advance than after you have spent money and time establishing your brand.
Finally, an understanding of your IP might give you more options as to how you extend your business overseas. Consideration of the core know-how of your product or service might open the door to other ways of going to market, through franchising or licensing for example.
What do we mean by intellectual property?
Your intellectual property is the product of your creativity and you have rights over what you create.
Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that intellectual property is like any other property. Its ownership has value and that value allows it to be bought and sold just like any other property. Intellectual property can also be licensed – its use can be granted to others in return for a consideration. Your intellectual property probably forms a significant element in the value of your business.
Different types of intellectual property
When you write something onto a page – advertising copy, training material, manuals, music, – or create pictures, film or photographs you are creating intellectual property which is protected by copyright.
This protection happens automatically as you create. There is no requirement to register what you have created. It can, however, be useful to maintain a strict record of everything you create and when you created it should there be a dispute. A common way of doing this is to post the material to yourself in a sealed envelope and keep it in a file.
Most countries have signed up to international agreements which recognise copyright protection, and whilst most countries don’t even require you to mark material as copyright, it is good practice to mark your material with a © followed by the year it was created and the full legal name of the copyright holder including e.g. Ltd, LLP etc.
Your brand embodies the values and other aspects of your business that you want to convey to your market. A key element in the communication of your brand is your company logo and other brand names that you use. They summarise what you and your products or services stand for and are often the result of years of work invested in getting people to relate what they feel about your business to a graphical symbol or design.
Consequently they are valuable assets and the system of protecting these assets is Trademark Registration, which in the UK is carried out through the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).
If granted, a trademark will give you exclusive use of that name or design for ten years, but only in the categories of trade for which you have applied. So, for example, if you want to register your trademark in a category which will protect its use in relation to the boats you manufacture, but also want to use your trademark to promote associated sportswear, you will also need to register in the appropriate category to protect its use in relation to sportswear.
Trademark registration for the UK will not offer you protection overseas. Registration is on a country by country basis, although one application for a community trademark will cover the whole of the EC.
Obviously if you suffer an infringement of your mark you could be faced with the potentially high cost of defending it. However, for many businesses the value of ‘a shot across the bow’ makes registration worthwhile, and for some the value of their brand makes even expensive defensive action worth pursuing.
When you come up with new ideas and inventions they will have value and this value will vary. An invention that is capable of creating a step change in your business or even industry will have a very high value. An invention that gives you a bit of competitive edge but is not business critical will have less value.
The patent system offers you the ability to protect your invention for 20 years, effectively giving you a monopoly on its use for that period.
Registering a patent is a very formal, relatively time-consuming and consequently expensive process. Even if your registration is successful it will only be valid in the UK, although with careful planning you can effectively reserve some rights overseas whilst you manage further applications. As with trademarks, registration is essentially on a country by country basis, although some regions such as the EU do offer the potential to group countries.
The patent system is often criticised because it is very expensive to defend a patent. Court action against larger organisations with the resources to take on complicated actions can be unpalatable ground for smaller companies. Nevertheless, patents can add significant value to your business, qualify you for tax breaks on the sale of patented products and, like trademarks, provide a useful ‘shot across the bows’.
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