What is intellectual property?

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What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property (IP), also known as “intangible assets”, are creations of the human mind, such as works of art and literature, pieces of design, brands and inventions.

The most well-known and utilised types of IP are:

  • Trademarks
  • Copyrights
  • Patents
  • Designs
  • Trade secrets

What is a trademark?

A trademark is any sign (e.g. a company name or logo) that can be used to identify products and services provided by a company or individual from those of another. It’s used to protect the identity and brand of a company, product or service.

Trademarks are one of the most important tools at a business’s disposal. By registering a trademark, companies can protect the reputation they have built-in their products and services from unfair third parties attempting to copy the trademark and use it on inferior product and by doing so freeriding on the efforts and investment of the original brand owner.

Examples of the most recognised trademarks include Google, eBay and Coca-Cola.

A copyright protects the creators of an original piece of work, such as literature, art, photography, films, TV, music, web content, sound recordings, from unauthorized copying. In the UK, a copyright is automatically granted upon the creation of the original piece. It is therefore important to keep the evidence of the creation and its date. In other countries, such as the US and China, copyrights need to be registered to obtain the full scope of protection.

Generally, copyright is recognised all over the world but with varying levels of protection. In the UK it prevents your work from being copied fully or in part, distributed, rented, performed or played publicly or put on the internet.

An example of a famous copyright infringement is between A&M record vs Napster where Napster was distributing the record labels music for free, which resulted in Napster having to shut down and pay $26million in damages

What is a patent?

Patents protect inventions, such as medicine, machines and devices to name just a few. To be patentable, an invention must be new, inventive and capable of industrial application.

A granted patent gives you the right to stop other people or businesses from making, using, selling, or importing the protected invention without your permission.

Patents are widely used by technology companies to protect their products. A good example of a is Apple: they have multiple patents that protect their gadgets such as the iPhone.

What is a design?

Designs protect the look of the product. This can include the shape, decorations, configuration, and appearance of anything including product packaging, furniture or fashion items.

To register a design, it must be new and your original design. Design protection does not extend to how things work which is the area of patents. Think of a design as protecting the cosmetic side of an invention.

What is a trade secret?

Trade secrets are generally any technical or commercial information that provides a company with a competitive edge and is unknown to others. Trade secrets can be used when an invention does not meet the patentability criteria. But in some cases, avoiding making certain information public can be even more valuable than a patent as trade secrets have an infinite lifetime, that is as long as they are kept secret – think of the Coca Cola recipe.

There is no registry to apply to but to qualify for protection as a trade secret, the information needs to be commercially valuable, known only by a limited number of people and reasonable steps must be taken to keep the information a secret.

Confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are the first action a company must take when protecting and relying on its trade secrets.

If you need NDAs, head over to CreditFocus, the Legal Manager feature lets you easily create legally binding, up to date contracts and documents.

Intellectual property protection

Intellectual property is widely recognised and protected by law around the world. But certain requirements and processes differ from country to country. In the UK, some types of IP require registration to be protected. This includes trademarks, patents and designs. Whilst others, like copyrights and trade secrets, are automatically protected, as long as they meet the criteria set out by the law.

If you are looking to protect “registrable” rights, do keep them secret until you apply for protection with the Intellectual Property Office, especially if you are trying to obtain a design or patent registration. Trademark and Patent attorneys are bound to keep any information they receive from you a secret, but if you need to discuss it with someone else, use a non-disclosure agreement.

Trademarks, on the other hand, can be registered even if you have already been using them for a while and the outside world is familiar with them. Not obtaining a trademark registration before you start trading under that mark does, however, increase the chances that somebody else may have copied and registered your mark ahead of you.

If you want to register a trademark, we can help. We’ll give you the professional legal support you need from start to finish. Click here to find out more

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