Today is World Intellectual Property Day and the perfect time to take stock and review the IP you hold in your business… and whether you need to protect it.
Businesses work incredibly hard to build their own brand, and lack of information on what is automatically protected or what can be protected can sometimes lead to others taking what rightfully is, or should be, the property of the business.
So, what is protected already and what can you protect?
You automatically have what is called Copyright Protection for the following types of original work:-
- Musical and artistic work,
- Web content,
- Sound and firm recordings and broadcasts etc.
Copyright lasts usually for around 70 years after the date of death of the original publisher (although this may vary depending on the type of work).
If others copy, distribute copies of, rent, lend, perform, show, make an adaptation of or put your work on the internet, without your permission then they are in breach of copyright and you have a claim against them for such.
There are similar rights available for designs although you would need to evidence that the design was yours and that it was stolen from you.
Trademarks are specifically used to protect your brand and will last for 10 years from the date of registration. This can include the name of your product or service, the logo you use that is specific to your business, or all of the above.
There are rules around what can and cannot be registered as a trademark and the Intellectual Property Office provide detailed guidance on this.
If you are able to register a trademark successfully then you can take legal action against anyone who uses your brand without permission, try and prevent others from trying to register a similar brand in certain circumstances, put the ® symbol next to your mark to warn others from copying it and sell and licence your brand.
This is especially important for those wanting to franchise their business or distribute their goods/services via third parties.
Whilst designs are automatically protected, it can be incredibly difficult to prove that you in fact had the design first. Because of this, it can be difficult to bring people to action for copying such works. There is therefore an option to register a design right with the Intellectual Property Office which provides you with protection in the event that someone tries to copy or steal your design.
The design can include the look, appearance, physical shape, configuration and/or decoration of the design.
If the registration is successful then then all aspects of your design are protected for up to 25 years (although renewal should take place every 5 years) and legal action in the event of infringement is far simpler.
Patents can be registered on something that is new, can be made or used and is an invention, for example a newly designed machine.
Patents are well known for being incredibly difficult to obtain, but for businesses who use their own or design inventions they are essential to protect the business.
Further details on patents can be found here.
Other forms of protection of IP
Non-disclosure agreements & thorough employment contracts
Those who work with you and who have access to the brand you wish to protect can be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, meaning they cannot use any information they have obtained from your business outside the context of the relationship you have engaged each other for. Equally, a well-written employment contract can provide protection from employees who seek to steal away information or branding that is the property of your business.
Thorough Licence & Service Agreements
If you need to provide any of your IP to a third party (i.e. a software house providing software to a third party distributor) then a licence agreement (as part of a larger agreement or on its own) will provide protection and guidance over the parameters in which the third party can use your IP.
There are many aspects of IP which are essential to each and every business and it is important to review often where the IP lies and how it can be best protected.
If you would like to speak to our team of experts on how to protect your business then please do not hesitate to call us for a free no obligation chat.
For further information, please contact Jo O’Donovan, a Solicitor in the Commercial & Employment department, on 01626 202347 or joO’Donovan@wbw.co.uk. WBW Solicitors has offices in Newton Abbot, Exeter, Torquay, Paignton, Bovey Tracey, Launceston, Honiton, Exmouth and Sidmouth.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.