Picture the scene; your business has developed this revolutionary new product that is going to take the world by storm. However, shortly after you launch your new product a competitor of yours develops his or her own version of your product. Your revolutionary product is now no longer revolutionary, it is no longer unique and your potential profits are being cut as a result.
The term ‘intellectual property’ is a very broad one. It can cover a range of areas, from designs, written copy, marketing material and even manufacturing processes. Your intellectual property is therefore a key asset to your business and it is vital that as with any asset, you protect it.
How to Protect Intellectual Property
There are a number of ways in which you can protect your intellectual property. These range in complexity, time and cost.
The “belt and braces” approach i.e. the best way for inventors to protect their ideas for up to 20 years is to obtain a “patent”. A patent, once registered, will give you recourse to the courts should someone try and steal your invention. You can see a list existing patents at the intellectual property office’s website here, it is advisable to check here first to make sure no one has beaten you to it.
Advantages of patents:
- Comprehensive protection.
- The use of the wording “patent pending” may be sufficient to deter any would be competitors.
Disadvantages of patents:
- Time – they can take several years to register.
- Cost – if you engage a specialist patent lawyer to help you, you may be looking at a very big bill for legal fees.
- Patents only last for 20 years, meaning after that period, your idea is free game to any competitors
A trademark is typically a word or a symbol you can use to distinguish your product from those of a competitor. It is your property, therefore you can take legal action against anyone using it without your permission.
Advantages of trademarks:
- Cost and time effective – they usually take between three and six months to register with the Intellectual Property Office and costs £200 for the first class of goods and/ or services and then £50 for every class thereafter.
- Trademarks must be renewed every ten years (but can be perceived to be valid indefinitely on the basis of long use/ association/ custom).
Disadvantages of trademarks:
- In order to be completely effective, you need to ensure that you have registered your trademark in all the necessary categories of goods and/ or services and territories. An oversight in either could be costly.
Copyright applies to any tangible item that you have created, be it written copy, photographs, or a product design. It applies automatically, you don’t need to register it in the UK and it generally lasts the lifetime of the creator, plus 70 (or 50 years) years after the author’s/ creator’s death (or from end of the year the work was created (computer-generated-programmes); from end of year in which recording was made (sound recordings); 25 years from the end of the calendar year the work was published (typographical arrangements of published editions)).
Advantages of copyright:
- Lasts your life time plus 70 (or 50 or 25) years
- Only applies to tangible items;
- Limited scope.
Confidentiality Agreements and Clauses
If you want to talk to a manufacturer about how to bring your product to market, you want to ensure that the information you need to give that manufacturer is protected and that they can’t use it for themselves or sell it on to a third party. The best way to do this is to ask them to sign a Confidentiality or Non-Disclosure Agreement. This is a contract in which you are requiring the manufacturer to agree that they will keep any information you give to them confidential.
Advantages of Confidentiality Agreements:
- Cost and time effective – easy to draw up
- Legal recourse for any breach
Disadvantages of a Non-Disclosure Agreement:
- Getting the other party to sign, a refusal might halt progress;
- Cost associated with legal action for any breach plus the loss of profit from any competitor using your disclosures to gain a competitive advantage.
It is always advisable that you ensure that Employee Contracts (or consultancy agreements as applicable) include a clause that stipulates that any IP they develop remains your property as the employer (or other engager). If it doesn’t then you can put in place a type of Confidentiality Letter of Agreement.
CloudLegal can provide you with further advice if you need it!
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Author: Yvonne Morris
CloudLegal is a tech-enabled legal support consultancy which promises practical commercial and jargon-free advice. We support all company matters, commercial contracts/ Ts & Cs (including software and IT), employment & HR as well as data protection matters. We have various services including:
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