How can I protect my business assets – Intellectual Property, Trademarks, Copyright, Designs and Patents

Introduction

Many businesses think of their valuable business assets in terms of tangible items such as premises, equipment and people. However there are a whole range of intangible business assets collectively known as intellectual property which can bring you many valuable business benefits. Every business should know how to protect and exploit these rights.

What is Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) covers a range of intangible assets that businesses and individuals create, and which they can own, sell and license in the same way as physical property. In particular, it protects the fruits of creativity and innovation and the goodwill arising out of a business's reputation and trading.

There are four main types of IP:

  • Copyright - protects written or drawn creative and artistic works such as books, art, music and films. It also covers computer programmes. Anything you write or draw in the course of business which has a degree of originality, including business letters and emails, may be covered by copyright. Copyright enables the owner of it to prevent others copying what has been created.
  • Copyright does not protect the ideas behind a work, but the format of the work itself. Since it also protects computer programmes, many businesses take licences of copyright from computer suppliers when they implement systems for their businesses.
  • Design Rights - these protect the outward visual appearance of products which are sold on the basis of some "eye appeal". Protection can be for shape, decoration, colours, texture, etc. Design rights may be particularly important for businesses involved in manufacturing or selling consumer goods.
  • Patents - these protect new inventions which have technical and functional purposes. They can protect both new products and new processes.
  • Trademarks - these protect marks and other trading symbols. Examples include signs which distinguish your business from other trading concerns, trade names, businesses logos and website domain names. You can register trademarks for maximum protection, but the law also protects unregistered trade names in certain circumstances.

In addition to the above there are other more specialist forms of intellectual property covering areas such as trade secrets, varieties of plant life, performers rights, etc. Often more than one type of intellectual property may apply to the same creation, product or process.

Protecting your Intellectual Property

If your business has valuable intellectual property you can seek formal protection of it by registering certain intellectual property rights. Most IP rights need renewing periodically after they are registered to keep them in force. The protection processes may be time consuming and expensive but are necessary if intellectual property is important to your business.

Making the Most of your Intellectual Property

There are various ways in which you can gain business and financial benefits from your intellectual property:

  • You can use it yourself - to make unique products for your business
  • Licensing - you can allow other people to use it, usually in return for payment such as royalties on the profits they make from using your IP
  • You can sell your IP to other people, e.g. a valuable design or patent, again in return for payment

Using Other People's Intellectual Property

If your business has valuable intellectual property you can seek formal protection of it by registering certain intellectual property rights. This will allow you to prevent others from using your intellectual property without your permission and you will also be able to choose the people to whom who want to grant rights .. Most IP rights need renewing periodically after they are registered to keep them in force. The protection processes may be time consuming and expensive but are necessary if intellectual property is important to your business.

If other people claim you are using their IP without permission you can in certain circumstances object to the validity of their IP protection if you think it is something that should not be exclusive to them.

How can we help?

Our lawyers can assist you with all aspects of identifying and managing your business's valuable intellectual property. These activities range from registering your IP for protection, checking the status of your and others IP, preparing sales or licensing agreements for it, and solving disputes relating IP rights.

For information of users: This material is published for the information of clients. It provides only an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.

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