29 May 2013 | Reading time: 2 minutes
A brief guide.
Intellectual property (IP) is a legal concept which refers to creations of the mind for which exclusive rights are recognised. For most companies it is their lifeblood, and therefore vital that it is properly protected. Broad protection can only be achieved with a clear and documented strategy. Piecemeal is not going to cut it. To complicate matters, there is no global system of protection, so each jurisdiction must be navigated, and protection applied for separately in each.
Broadly, there are 4 avenues for IP protection.
1. Trade marks.
A trade mark is a is a recognisable sign, design or expression which identifies products or services of a particular source from those of others. Trade marks can exist as registered or unregistered. Registration with the relevant body in a jurisdiction. Proprietary rights in relation to a trade mark may be established through actual use in the marketplace The extent of protection available in this way varies greatly between jurisdictions.
Generally, to register a trade mark it must be distinctive for a group of goods and services, and not identical or similar to any existing trade marks registered for the same or similar goods and services. The cost of trade mark registration is generally modest.
Registering a design prevents anyone else from copying the phsical appearance of it, giving you exclusive rights. It is the appearance rather than the function of a product in question that is protected. However if the product’s function is original, patent protection is probably more appropriate. Again, costs to register a design are relatively modest and the process quick.
A patent is a set of exclusive rights granted by a country to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time, in exchange for the public disclosure of the invention. An invention is a solution to a specific technological problem, and may be a product or a process.
The process of patent application is long and exhaustive, including written descriptions, often with drawings of the invention, technical data, explanations of the invention, and a defined scope of the patent protection applied for. A patent can last up to 20 years, subject to being renewed annually.
In a forthcoming article, we will discuss the patent v trade secret debate. For example, had coca cola applied for patent protection, it’s product would have been more successfully copied years ago.
Copyright initially was conceived as a way for government to restrict printing; the contemporary intent of copyright is to promote the creation of new works by giving authors control of and profit from them. Importantly, it relates to the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. Copyright protects creative works such as sound, recordings, films, photographs and literature.
Unlike other forms of protection, copyright cannot be registered. Proving ownership of a copyright is harder, hence the number of protracted legal battles, many high profile, over copyright infringements. To evidence that copyright exists in your materials, mark all copyright works with © followed by your name or company name, and the year of creation.
Contact the author of this article to discuss in more detail your strategy to protect your intellectual property.