Intellectual Property rights are often discussed in business, but rarely given the attention they deserve. In this guest blog, Michael Forrester of specialist IP law firm Brandsmiths talks us through the key rights and what to look out for.
A business often feels its biggest assets are its people, client database or reputation in the marketplace. These are crucially important, but almost always the most valuable asset is a company’s IP: it is what the employees are creating and the attractive force which brings work into the business.
This comes in many forms:
The main function of a trade mark is to differentiate the goods and/or services of one entity from those of another. Words (Nike), slogans (Just Do It), logos (Nike Swoosh), shapes (Toblerone), colours (Cadbury purple) or even sounds (MGM lion) can function as a trade mark.
Trade marks are vital to protecting and monetising a company’s brand. A registered trade mark can cover the UK, EU or worldwide. They are a valuable and important IP right. Once registered trade marks can last indefinitely.
It is often forgotten that any business automatically accrues legal rights in its goodwill and reputation. This is a powerful right, which can cover any aspects which attracts its customers to the business. This includes its name or logo, but can also extend to use of packaging or even in some cases a colour scheme.
This right is particularly important for the creative, cultural, media and software industries. Copyright is an unregistered right that comes into existence automatically upon creation of a qualifying copyright work. Generally, copyright will last for the life of the author plus 70 years.
From a business perspective, copyright will protect a very wide range of works including all manner of advertisements, brochures, graphics, photographs, designs, databases, websites, software source code, documents, manuals and reports published or used by businesses. It is possible to enforce copyright in most jurisdictions worldwide.
Rights in designs protect the appearance of the whole or part of a product. They can be unregistered or registered, with protection limited to the UK or covering the whole EU. Registered designs can last up to 25 years and the application to register must be made within 1 year of the design being made available to the public.
They are particularly important for manufactured goods, industrial designs, packaging design and all types of fashion products. Examples of registered designs include the Apple iPad and the Trunki ride-on suitcase.
Patents protect a technical invention, an industrially applicable process or a device. The patent system encourages inventors to publish details of their inventions, in return for a limited monopoly over that invention. Generally, patents last 20 years and after that the invention(s) are available freely to the public.
Patents must be registered and it is vital that the idea is not disclosed to the public until the patent application has been filed; prior public disclosure risks invalidating the patent.
This accrues without registration to protect commercially sensitive materials and information, such as trade secrets, customer lists, business methods, financial information, business plans, processes, formulae and recipes.
Protection can be lost through careless disclosure. Internally, businesses should restrict access to confidential information to those who really need it and externally, consider the use of confidentiality/non-disclosure agreements when disclosing information.
These protect the structure and/or content of a database. Databases can be extremely valuable and for some businesses at the heart of their work. For example, a recruitment agency’s databases of clients and candidates is usually a key differentiator from its competitors.
If you would like a confidential chat about your IP, just call Brandsmiths on 0161 457 1685 and ask to speak with Michael Forrester, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Firm was setup in 2014 to provide pragmatic, results-focused advice across intellectual property, sport and commercial legal matters. We work with a wide range of clients from big international brands, through to entrepreneurs, SMEs and high-profile individuals.
Our offices are in central Manchester and London, with clients across the UK and internationally.