Intellectual property is a very interesting yet complex area of law that has a huge amount of relevance for entrepreneurs in today’s climate. Today, we are all generating an incredible amount of content and in a digitally diverse world that is rife with copyright infringement, plagiarisation and basic theft – it’s never been more important to protect your intellectual property. In this article, we’re going to look at how to do just that.
WHAT IS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY?
The first question we need to answer is what is “intellectual property” protection. Well, intellectual property is something you create as a result of considered creative thought – for instance, you might come up with a brand name or strapline… or a design… or an invention.
In essence, intellectual property protection helps you to stop, or recover damage if, people steal or copy aspects such as the name of your products, brand identity, inventions, design and aesthetic features, in addition to the words you write.
There is, however, a key consideration with regard to what constitutes intellectual property, and that is that it’s something that you must create — an idea alone is not something that can be protected. For instance, if you come up with a fantastic name for a website and your friend goes ahead and registers it – you’re unlikely to be able to claim it was your intellectual property, as it was just an “idea”.
You can “own” intellectual property, automatically if you create something – for instance, the words that you write are protected by copyright as an automatic right. However, you can also purchase intellectual property and transfer the rights from the creator to the new owner.
It’s important to remember that intellectual property can have more than one owner, belong to businesses as well as individuals, and it can be sold or transferred.
If you are self-employed or have your own business, then the intellectual property you create is likely to belong to you, unless you are working on a project where the rights of that work are transferred as a result of payment.
Interestingly, if you are employed and work on something that generates extremely valuable intellectual property (e.g. an advertising slogan or logo) you have no rights to that work, as the intellectual property you create belongs to the employer that was paying you to create the work.
Now, let’s take a look at a few ways you can protect your intellectual property:
If you’re considering registering your brand or product name as a trademark, you might want to consider consulting a trademark lawyer as this process isn’t as simple as it may seem. Many people use the abbreviation ™ to infer protection when in fact, many people consider this to stand for “totally meaningless” rather than trademark as it’s only when the ® logo is displayed, that suggests the trademark has been officially registered is the trademark fully protected.
Copyright is an automatic right that belongs to the owner of the created work (e.g. words, code or drawing). You don’t have to do anything to register for copyright – you are automatically protected.
A patent is the most complex form of intellectual property protection and tends to protect novel or innovative processes. It’s important to note there’s a large difference between patents in the UK and US – plus patents are often regional, rather than worldwide, they are also quite expensive to apply for.