What is IP?

What is intellectual property?

So, imagine the scene. You’ve spent weeks, months or even years, dreaming about making your brilliant idea into a business reality. You’ve taken those first tentative steps – registered a new domain, created a limited company and handed in your resignation at work with a flourish. Stretching before you is a brave new world of endless possibility. You’re so intent on driving things forward that you can barely think of anything else.

But there is one last hurdle standing between you and your dreams. It is at this point that you simply must apply your mind to something that seems daunting, expensive and a bit of a distraction – your Intellectual Property rights.

Why do I need to consider intellectual property rights?

Failure to consider IP issues from the outset can be very costly indeed – perhaps even fatal to the future of your cherished business idea. If someone else has already protected their rights in the same sector you want to work in, the bad news is that your business plan could already be dead in the water.

If your unprotected ideas can be easily replicated by an opportunist rival with deeper pockets, then you’ll struggle to both engage investors and create an exit strategy if your endgame is to sell your business to a wealthy corporate somewhere down the line.

The good news is that Rocket Lawyer can help you protect your most cherished dreams now and in the future – with an affordable and simple solution. We have created Quick Guides that underline the issues you should be thinking about now and our suite of start-up business documents will protect the integrity of your ideas. This is especially crucial initially, while you discuss your plans with partners who might otherwise be better placed to take your ideas forward without you once you’ve revealed your hand to them.

Even where everyone’s intentions are honourable, backers and partners will be reassured that you value your ideas enough to have protected them.

So, what do I need to be thinking about right now?

Intellectual Property protects original ideas. This means that only you can use your ideas and others are prevented from doing so. Equally, if someone else has protected their idea or creation before you, then you will be prevented from using a comparable idea. For you to do so would be an infringement of the creator’s intellectual property rights.

Intellectual Property rights can protect logos, brands, names, music, images, and literary works – anything, in fact, that is original and legal in origin.

How do I protect my ideas?

Patents, trademarks, design rights and copyright are all vehicles that are routinely used to protect intellectual property. What vehicle you need will depend on the type of material or creation that you want to protect.  Rocket Lawyer’s Quick Guides will help you understand which path you should follow and what you need do now.

What if I want to speak to other businesses about my idea?

If you want to collaborate with, or employ the services of others to help you with your new business idea, you should complete a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), also known as a confidentiality agreement.

If only you are sharing your idea, then a one way confidentiality agreement is what you need. If both parties are collaborating and sharing ideas, then a two way confidentiality agreement is what you need.

Tailored IP documents, applicable to both types of agreement, can be created using our quick and straightforward online documents. With the protection of our bespoke agreement, you can speak freely and openly with prospective business partners, safe in the knowledge that both parties are bound by confidentiality.

The agreement covers all the sensitive legals, ensuring that it is crystal clear what constitutes confidential information, who is allowed to be told about it, how the agreement is to end (if the parties choose to do so) and what remedies are available, in the form of damages or an injunction, if a breach of confidentiality occurs.

How do I know if I need a trademark, a patent, or copyright?

Intellectual Property is a complicated area and our On-call lawyers can provide advice that is tailored to your needs.

In general terms, the vehicle that you ultimately use to protect your Intellectual Property depends on what exactly you need to protect. For instance, a trademark is essential to protect indicators that establish a business’ identity and set it apart from its competitors – for example, branding and product names, packaging, logos and marketing slogans and copy.

Trademarks, patents or copyright?

Trademarks can be registered if what is sought to be protected is especially distinctive. A registered trademark provides the owner with a monopoly on its use.

A patent protects an invention and gives the owner of the invention a monopoly on exploiting it for a specified period. Patents are granted by the Intellectual Property Office and strict criteria must be met, such as the invention being genuinely innovative and capable of industrial reproduction.

Copyright is applicable to, in general terms, literary and artistic works such as books, music, illustrations and your written work. Copyright arises automatically and does not need to be registered. You can protect copyright with copyright notices on your original work.

For IP purposes, it is always prudent to establish clear evidence that you own copyright over original material. Just think of the innumerable court cases that have arisen over disputed authorship claims by jobbing songwriters when ‘their’ work has become a hit, turning another artist into a global sensation.

Every step of the way, keep clear documentary evidence of your work and make sure agreements are in place with anyone who is to work with your material to ensure that your ownership of copyright is indisputable.


Camilla Johnson

Camilla Johnson is the digital acquisition specialist for Rocket Lawyer UK. She has a law degree from Keele University, a post graduate diploma in professional legal practice and a diploma in digital marketing.