Intellectual property can be a considerable asset for businesses in this day and age, and therefore ensuring its protection is of significant importance.
The law governing intellectual property is, however, a vast and complex area. In order to ascertain how intellectual property is protected, it is helpful to understand the perimeters of what intellectual property is, and therefore what type one might have, or intend to create. This article seeks to identify some aspects to be aware of.
What is Intellectual Property?
A brief definition would be:
"Intangible property rights which are a result of intellectual effort. Intellectual property rights include patents, trade marks, designs and copyright."
Typical examples include: inventions, names of products, the design or look of a product, and the written word.
Who owns the intellectual property?
It is important to establish who the owner of the particular property is, and such an endeavour may not necessarily be straight-forward.
Particular aspects to be aware of include the following:
- There can be more than one owner of intellectual property;
- You may not be the/an owner of the intellectual property even if you were its creator. An example of this could be when you have created something during the course of your employment, and the way in which that employment relationship is governed means that you are not the legal owner.
- Ownership of intellectual property can be transferred and sold.
How can intellectual property be protected? And for how long?
Some types of intellectual property are automatically protected, but some require registration in order to afford protection. Types of protection include the following:
The most popular of these are discussed below.
Copyright is the protection of original expression of ideas (rather than the idea itself). The period of protection is usually the life of the author, plus 70 years, however this can vary depending on the type of work (e.g. literary, sound recording, broadcast etc). As long as the work and author fall in to the correct categories, work can automatically be protected by copyright – you do not have to register it. However, some do, which can be seen from the © mark, and there are benefits in doing this.
A trademark refers to a sign/symbol which a business will use to distinguish itself from another. This can be a colour, a sound, a word, a gesture, etc.
Trademarks are a registerable form of intellectual property, but they also qualify for protection from “Passing Off”, which is an additional sanction for selling something under the pretense of being something else (i.e. having a similar design to another company and benefitting from their good name in selling it so). Trademarks can be renewed indefinitely, but do also need to be actively defended to retain protection.
Patents exist to protect an invention/innovation e.g. a rodent trap etc.
Inventions are not automatically protected – they have to be registered. For patent protection in the UK, registering it gives 20 years of protection. It can take several years for patent protection to be granted.
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