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18 March 2019
If you’ve never had any experience with intellectual property (IP), it can seem difficult to get your head around, but a basic understanding can set you on the right track.
It’s a given that every business, big or small, will own or use some form of IP and in many cases, they don’t even realise it’s one of the most valuable assets you can own and can account for over 70% of your business’ worth!
Working at the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), we see the damage that can be caused by overlooking them. From knowing whether a trade mark comparable to your brand already exists, to inventors announcing developments before applying for a patent, to not owning the copyright to your website. These are just some of the reasons we created IP for Business – a range of free tools and guidance to help businesses turn their ideas and hard work into sustainable success and growth.
The World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) defines intellectual property as “creations of the mind”, this covers inventions; literary and artistic work; designs; and symbols, names and images.
The four main types of IP rights are trade marks, patents, designs and copyright.
Once you’ve decided upon the nature of your business, the first step on your road to success is to create a unique and recognisable company name. This could be your very first trade mark!
It’s worth noting at this point that the registration of your company name with Companies House doesn’t automatically protect it. It may give you the legal right to the name, but it doesn’t stop other businesses from trading under very similar names.
A trade mark is a symbol that could be made up of words, logos or a combination of both. You can use your trade mark, often referred to as your ‘brand’, as a marketing tool for customers to distinguish your products/services from your competitor’s. Take Apple for example, as reported in Forbes:
“Apple currently leads the pack as the world’s most valuable brand with a value of $182.8 billion, up 8%”.
Apple initially appealed to their audience by pitching themselves as something ‘a bit different’ and have continued to evolve ever since. A company name, logo and even a slogan can all be registered as a trade mark to help protect the value of your business.
Next, you might want to think about your products. For example, you might be manufacturing and selling an invention that you’ve developed – have you thought about applying for a patent? Patents protect the processes that make your invention work, the materials it’s made of and how it’s made.
Despite common misconceptions, they don’t just cover life-changing breakthroughs like the smartphone – even small solutions to technical problems can be patentable. Take, for example, the modest paperclip – did you know there are over 15,000 patents relating to devices for securing paper dating back to the mid-1800s?
The most common mistake made by inventors revealing their invention before applying for a patent. Please note that if you have made your invention public, you could lose the possibility of being granted a patent, so use a non-disclosure agreement.
The biggest advantage of a patent, is that it lets you stop others from copying, manufacturing, selling and importing your invention without your permission. And if they do, you have the right to take civil court action to stop them and claim for damages.
You may have heard the term ‘patent pending’? In simple terms, a patent pending occurs when a patent application has been filed but hasn’t been granted yet.
We recommend that you seek professional advice before applying for a patent.
Copyright is a term that most people have heard of, but can get confused about what it covers. To put it simply, copyright is an automatic right that protects creative and artistic works covering a huge range of items that you’ll come across in the day-to-day running of your business. These could include literature, websites, advertising materials and photographs, so it’s an important one to keep in mind. It’s also a free and automatic right with no need to register in the UK. Unless you employ them, the owner of any copyright material will be the creator. But if you have work created by a contractor of some sort, you need to make sure you agree the copyright in a written contract.
It’s useful to mark your work with the copyright symbol (©), your name as the creator and the year it was published. This reminds people that the work is protected when the copyright begins.
Your product designs
If your business is all about the visual appearance of a product or if you rely on coming up with a ‘new look’ for an item, a registered design could be an important part of your IP portfolio. Parts that can be protected include the lines, contours, colours, shape, texture, materials and the ornamentation which give it a unique look.
Your next steps
No two businesses are the same, so the first and most important step for any company owner or advisor is to identify what types of IP they have. To help with this step, the IPO offers a free online health check tool, which is a basic IP audit and a great starting point. It’s broken down into the 4 main IP elements, including advice on licensing IP and managing confidential information. After answering a series of simple questions, a tailored and confidential report will be created including recommended action points, explanations and further guidance.
Once your IP assets are clear, you can decide how to protect them. This bottom line will often determine your IP strategy. Also consider how you’re going to make the most of your assets commercially (through licensing) and how to enforce your rights.
Any questions? You can contact one of our IP advisors who can help – call them on 0300 300 2000 or email them at Information@ipo.gov.uk.
About the author
Kelsey Lewis has worked at the Intellectual Property Office an External Communications Manager for 4 years.
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