Creating and scaling a business is often based on the idea that you have a product or solution that the rest of the marketplace doesn’t currently offer. Whether it’s a new product or an improvement to something that already exists, you wouldn’t have started a business based on a tired idea. Which is why protecting yourself and your intellectual property against its misuse and replication should always be at the forefront of your mind.
We are doing a two-part series on Intellectual Property. There are five types of intellectual property that will be important to your business. We’ve brought together a guide of each option available, and what they will mean for your company. Stay tuned for our next blog on just how to protect your Intellectual Property.
Copyright is the protection of original work in the form of music, art, film, the written word, photography, or programming code, to name a few examples. Your work automatically receives copyright protection without having to take any action meaning you do not have to apply or pay a fee.* It’s also not necessary to mark the original work with the copyright symbol ©, but many businesses find it useful. Once acquired, copyright law gives the creator control over how their materials can be used. Although copyright laws apply to any original work, they do not apply to intangible ideas. Additionally, it’s ideal to be aware of the Creative Commons copyright licenses and tools as they give everyone from individual creators to large companies, and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work.
What many companies find beneficial about the Creative Commons license is regardless of your industry, any content online, for example, that you provide can be used in completely new and creative ways by your customers without infringing on any laws with the added bonus of your name being used at every turn. Mozilla’s Doug Belsaw states on the subject, “I think knowledge and information and creativity want to be free, and they want to be joined up together, so I think it’s in brands’ best interests, and organisations’ and users’ best interests for the web to be open and free and for people to do things under permissive licenses.”***
A patent protects a specific function, inventive idea, process or product that is completely original, new, and useful. For example, if you invented a laptop computer with an indestructible screen, you could apply for it to become patented technology that sets your product apart from competitors. Applying for a patent also allows the patent holder to exclude others from making, selling or using the invention. However, not all ideas can be patented and the license for patented technology only lasts for a certain amount of time.
If you find that a company has copied an idea or product you have protected by a Government patent, you have a solid foundation to push a legal case and also the ability to remove the technology from their product offering. Patents are often very difficult to achieve and are traditionally expensive. There are also several types of inventions that cannot be patented. For a full list and more information surrounding patents, visit the gov.uk/patent-your-invention
Trademarks are different from patents in that they are centred around words, colours, phrases, symbols or even sounds and smells. Many companies deal with trademarks when it comes to their name (Coco Chanel), their mark or logo (The Facebook F), a catchphrase (Donald Trump ’s ‘You’re Fired’) or lyrics (in 2015 Taylor Swift applied to trademark several of her lyrics from her 1989 album).
Trademarks can be obtained legally, through Government means, but this isn’t essential. Whilst an official trademark offers a greater legal sway, you can still provide evidence as to why another company has used assets associating with your business for themselves, and as their own. For example, the trademark Apple symbol used on Apple products is a good representation of original branding, so to use the same or similar style of branding on a product – especially in the technology sector – would break trademark rules and leave a company open to legal actions.
‘Design right’ automatically protects your design for 10 years after it was first sold or 15 years after it was created – whichever is earliest. In order for design right to be eligible, proof of when the design was created will be needed and an intellectual property solicitor may have to be called in. It is also a great idea to register your design in order to better protect it, although it will need to meet certain criteria. The design of your products or services can be synonymous with your brand, company, and history and your design registration can have monetary worth. For example, by simply putting “I” which is considered a design right, in front of Apple products, this allows them to be recognisable and more distinguished in their market.
A trade secret is a system, device, formula, algorithm or strategy which is exclusive to your business and seen to give your business a competitive advantage. Trade secrets aren’t owned by a company as such but can be kept confidential as long as the necessary actions are in place to protect the secret. A mainstream example of this is Google, a, if not the, leader in search engine and search engine optimisation. They have kept their search algorithm a secret because if it was free and open information it would lead to competitors and possible, if not inevitable, exploitation of unethical tactics to reach the top of the search engine results page, SERP.
It’s important to take necessary actions to keep trade secrets from being exposed and these plans can become expensive and complicated with non-disclosure acts, data security measures, and confidential documentation. Stay informed on updated regulations and laws so your overall costs remain low and tuned for our second part blog on how to protect your intellectual property.