Protecting your intellectual property is essential to remaining profitable. Our guide explains the many ways in which you can get protection including patents, trademarks and ensuring your products are first-to-market.
Why should I protect my intellectual property?
Many of the things that can be protected under intellectual property rights have essential roles to play in the success of your business. Strong brands are often crucial to retaining loyal clients; if your brand is easily copied then its strength is diluted and you may lose customers. Likewise, a good invention is often profitable because it solves problems in a way other inventions do not. If it’s easily copied then other businesses can eliminate your competitive advantage.
Carrying out an intellectual property audit
You must carry out an audit before you can pursue intellectual property protection. Identify where IP is used within your organisation, who currently owns the IP rights (if any) and assess the IP’s values. You’ll need this information when arranging protection. If you’re unsure, ask a business acquaintance for help as audits should not only take into account more obvious forms of IP – such as brands and headlines – but also domain names, written materials and other valuable assets. Find out more about how to identify and value your assets.
Patents – protecting inventions
Inventions are protected exclusively by patents, and are granted for a set period of time from the Intellectual Property Office. Patents are granted only for inventions that are not currently under patent in any way – conduct a patent search to find out if someone’s got there before you. Once your invention has been patented it is relatively easy to litigate against a third party that you feel is unfairly using your intellectual property. Find out more about how to apply for a patent.
Trademarks – protecting concepts and ideas
Trademarks cover the unique or distinctive way you represented certain aspects of your business, such as slogans and brand names. In theory legal action can be taken without applying for a trademark - but you must the disputed asset has been used by you to build sufficient trading reputation and goodwill. It’s better to register a trademark, which can be done through the Intellectual Property Office. Find out more about how to register a trademark.
Design right and registered designs – three dimensional objects
Design right provides automatic protection for the appearance of three dimensional objects. This protection is limited; registering the design widens the degree of protection and extends it to cover two dimensional objects. Find out more about design right and registration.
Copyright – original works
Copyright protection is automatic (in the UK, but not in the US) and does not need to be applied for – it is given to all original literary or artistic creations that are the result of intellectual effort, skill or creative prowess. This would include website content, instruction manuals and paintings as well as sound recordings and software. Please read our guide to copyright protection for more information.
Protecting your rights overseas
IP protection is territorial – it is usually only applicable to a specified region or country. Many countries have similar IP laws to the UK and applying for IP protection abroad is often straightforward. Speak to a qualified lawyer for more information.
Getting help with intellectual property protection
Patent attorneys specialise in all aspects of intellectual property protection – not just patents – and can provide legal advice to your business. Make sure your lawyer is registered and regulated by the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA)
. Alternatively contact a trade mark lawyer, regulated by the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (ITMA)
. The Intellectual Property Office can also provide advice.