Intellectual property comprises patents, copyrights, trademark, design rights and registered designs. Some intellectual property rights (such as Patents, Trade Marks and Registered Designs) need a formal process of registration by the owner to the Intellectual Property Office, in order to afford protection and monopoly rights to the owner. Others, such as copyright and design rights, arise automatically upon creation, but do not protect from a third party’s independent creation – only from copying.
Of course, IP rights, only protect the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves, as a very first stage it is important that, appropriate confidentiality provisions are put in place, to ensure that discussions during different parties at the very beginning, are protected and not disclosed.
The IP rights differ in terms of duration and procedures, but the effect is to ensure that the owner has the exclusive right to use and decide how those rights are used and exploited and to prevent any other party from using the same rights.
Patents protect an invention that is new, novel and has industrial application. This, in turn, allows the owner of the patent to use the invention to streamline its business processes, gain competitive advantage or increase its revenue, by granting licences or selling the patent to a third party.
Copyright protects original literary works (e.g. instruction manuals, computer programs) dramatic, musical works or artistic works (such as logos, maps, technical drawings, diagrams, photographs, works of architecture). The owner of copyright is the first author of the copyrighted work. So, if you engage consultants or subcontractors to write a report or carry out a survey or produce your website or a piece of software that party’s owns the copyright, even if you have paid for it. However, copyright does not protect ideas.
Trademark is a sign which can distinguish the goods or services of one trader from those of another. A sign includes words, logos, pictures or a combination of these. A sign to be registered must be distinctive, not deceptive and not identical or similar to any earlier marks for the same or similar goods or services. Please remember that, simple registration of your company with the Companies House, does not guarantee you trade mark protection. Also, if you have a website, you may want to consider registering the trade mark as a domain name and vice versa.
A Registered Design is a monopoly right for the appearance of the whole or a part of a product, resulting from the features of lines, contours, colours, shape, texture, materials of the product or its ornamentation. The design must be new and have individual character.
On the other hand, Design Right applies to originals, non-commonplace designs of shape or configuration of products. There is no need for registration and prevents third parties from copyright, without permission of the owner.
A business must be always aware of when and how intellectual property is created, in order to take all the necessary steps for its protection and exploitation. This means that contracts of employment need to have adequate provisions, dealing with creation of intellectual property and commissioned works need to be protected by appropriate contracts, which vest the intellectual property in the business commissioning the work.