Creations of the mind, like brand names, inventions, designs, images and written works are intellectual property. These are valuable assets for many small businesses. So protecting them to prevent competitors using your ideas is crucial.
Types of Intellectual Property
1. Trademarks protect your brand, helping your business stand out and get customer recognition. You can trademark representations of your brand like the name, slogans, and logos. Other businesses cannot use anything resembling the trademark to sell similar products, if this would cause the public to confuse the two of you
2. Copyright applies to creative works like songs, writing, graphics, and photos. Copyright owners can prevent people using their work without permission
3. Patents allow creators of inventions with an industrial or commercial application the exclusive right to produce and sell their product for 20 years
4. Designs relating to the visual appearance of a product like clothes or furniture can be registered, giving you rights over the design for 25 years
Trademarks, patents and designs must be registered with the UK Intellectual Property Office. You can also apply for protection throughout the EU from the European Trademarks and Designs Registry or European Patents Office.
With copyright, there is no registration. It is automatically assigned to the creator of the idea (or, their employer if they create it at work). If your website is created by an external consultant they have copyright over it, so it is advisable for your contract with them to transfer this to you.
If you have to enforce your copyright, you need to prove when you came up with the idea. There is no surefire way to do this, but some businesses send new creative works to their solicitors to keep on file. If you upload work to the internet, web archive pages should show the date.
What can you do if someone infringes your intellectual property? This depends on things like the severity of the infringement, the effect on your business and size (or depth of pockets!) of the other business.
The first step is generally to notify them of the infringement and require that they stop. Ideally, this should be done by a solicitor’s letter.
If this does not work you may need to take legal action, in which case legal advice is essential. Intellectual property cases can be complex as they involve things that are hard to prove, like whether an unauthorised use of your trademark is likely to confuse customers or who first created something.
To avoid litigation, many businesses resolve intellectual property disputes by mediation. This is where a third party helps you negotiate a settlement. There is normally room for compromise in intellectual property disputes. For example, the other business might agree not to operate in a certain geographical area, to pay you a license fee, or make changes to the infringing product or material.
Intellectual property law is complex and it is important to get it right if your business has creative assets. Taking advice from a specialist solicitor on protection and enforcement of intellectual property is highly advisable.
* This is a guest post from Contact Law – To learn more about Intellectual Property Law, visit Contact Law.