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Intellectual Property: Why is it Important and How to Protect it?

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Intellectual property, IP: for short, is one of the most valuable commodities a company can have. It covers everything from the creative – photos, writing, and designs – through to the technological – code, patents etc. What you think, original things you make, these are all IP.

Intellectual property rights (IPR) exist to help you protect your IP. If your IP has commercial prospects then you may want to consider protecting it.

The main IPRs are:

Copyright – this covers any artistic or literary work. It is automatic, and gives owners the longest IPR protected time period. It can cover paintings, photographs, films, books – it can also extend to blogs, articles, and selfies. If you are the originator of the work, the copyright is yours – unless you sell it and assign it to someone else.  Many people make money from their copyrighted works by licensing them to others. As a company it is important to think about what type of licence you want to assign to a copyrighted work before uploading it to the internet! You cannot make licence conditions stricter once it has been released in to the public domain.

Designs (both registered and unregistered) – this protects the overall visual appearance of a product or a part of a product. For its registration to be valid, a design must be new and have individual character. To keep your registered design in force, you must renew it on the fifth anniversary of the registration date and every five years after that up to a total of 25 years.

Trademarks – these can be a sign (or signs) which distinguish your goods and services from those of your competitors. If you have a registered trade mark you can put the ® symbol next to it to warn others against using it. However, using this symbol for a trademark which has not been registered is an offence. A registered trademark may put people off using yours without permission and makes it easier to take legal action against anyone who does. Whilst Trademark protection can be obtained more cheaply than a patent, start-up businesses should consider carefully the value a trademark will bring to them in the early years before they have built significant brand value.

Patents – A deal between a government and an inventor, whereby in return for a trade monopoly the invention is published. Patent protection can be gained throughout most of the world and in most cases lasts for 20 years. A patent is a ‘negative right’ i.e. it merely gives you the right to stop others from working a particular invention and does not provide an inherent right to work your own invention if that would infringe the IP of others.

There are three criteria for patentability:

  1. Objects, products or processes which are capable of industrial application.
  2. Must be new, and must not have been disclosed (as of the filing date).
  3. Must involve an inventive step that is not obvious to a person skilled in the art.

The gov.uk website has a useful guide to help you patent an invention.

Whilst it is free to make an initial patent filing in the UK there are significant costs to consider:

  • Patent Attorney fees for drafting
  • Filing charges for international and regional filings
  • Translation costs for international filings
  • Maintenance/renewal costs
  • Legal fees to defend/enforce your patent

Costs arising from protecting your IP are something we can help with. To find out more email our Technology Seed Fund team on [email protected]

Remember, there are dozens of types of IP out there which are valuable, but cannot be protected by IPRs.

Trade secrets can be one of the most valuable forms of IP, but their dependence on secrecy can make them vulnerable and can complicate deal-making. The recipe for Coca Cola has been maintained as a trade secret since its invention and the manufacturers have chosen not to patent it because this would involve public disclosure. The secret has been successfully maintained since the late 1800s. If you can keep a secret, this can be a very good way of protecting your IP for a long time.