Intellectual property refers to creations that come about as a result of skill, creativity and expression. Entrepreneurs and firms take steps to protect their intellectual property because it often forms a significant part of their competitive advantage. There are several ways to protect intellectual property; the one you use depends on the type of creation you want to protect.
What is intellectual property?
Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations that are the product of skill, creativity, ingenuity and insight. Items that fall under the IP umbrella are often called ‘creations of the mind.’ The term intellectual property also refers to the legal practice and issues surrounding the protection and sale of these items. The legal principles governing IP have evolved over many hundreds of years but the term itself is a relative new creation.
Why use intellectual property?
Intellectual property law allows owners of IP to benefit from their own creations. For many businesses intellectual property protection is necessary to maintain a competitive advantage and to prevent other firms from copying their ideas. Patents, which cover inventions, are often applied for because the returns can help pay for research and development costs. Many economists also believe intellectual property contributes significantly to economic growth, with the wealth and capacity of many of the world’s largest companies directly traceable to their intangible assets (brand names, slogans, etc).
How do I know what intellectual property I have?
Entrepreneurs and businesses should identify and value their assets in order to understand what is worth protecting. In the case of tangible assets (physical objects such as machinery) this is easier than for intangible assets, as it’s very difficult to put a market price on brand names or logos. However, there are methods of doing so: please find our full article on how to identify and value your assets for more information. Once you have completed this process you can apply for IP protection.
How to protect intellectual property
Different solutions exist depending on what needs to be protected. Patents cover inventions and, for UK applicants, are granted for a set period of time by the Intellectual Property Office. Trademarks cover distinctive intangible assets such as brand names. Registering a trademark can also be done through the Intellectual Property Office. Copyright and design right – which cover original literary creations and 3D models respectively – are automatically granted in the UK to original literary creations but must be applied for in other countries. Registered design, an extension to design right, extends the protection but must be applied for. Please read our full guide to how to protect your intellectual property for more information.
Intellectual property protection in other countries
You shouldn’t assume that because your IP is protected in the UK it will be protected abroad. Protection is generally territorial i.e. it is granted only to where the granting body has jurisdiction. Many countries have similar IP laws to the UK and the process of applying for protection is straightforward. This is particularly true in recent years as we move towards a more globalised society. In 2005 the RSA launched the Adelphi Charter, which was created to encourage countries to adopt a universal framework for the provision of intellectual property protection.
Getting professional advice
Intellectual property law is complex and it is often worth getting advice from a professional before applying for protection. Patent attorneys specialise in intellectual property law, as do trade mark attorneys. They are governed and regulated by the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) and the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (ITMA) respectively. More general advice can be gained from the Intellectual Property Office.