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Protect intellectual property

Make the right documents to ensure your IP is protected


Protect intellectual property FAQs

  • How to protect intellectual property

    The intellectual property of a business is sometimes its most important asset. Ensure that it's protected properly to secure your business interests.

    Understanding the range and extent of intellectual property rights can help individuals and businesses to profit from their endeavours. Copyright, patents, trade marks and design rights can all be protected and many of these arise automatically. Using a variety of Confidentiality agreements can ensure that other businesses do not try to take advantage of your own ideas. A Cease and desist letter for IP infringement can often put an end to any infringements. If you decide to sell or transfer your IP you will need an Assignment of IP document.

  • What is intellectual property and confidentiality?

    Intellectual property (IP) refers to the range of rights to use, and restrict others from using, original ideas or 'creations of the mind' which include inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, logos, names and business imagery. IP is a core asset of many small businesses and the main types are:

    • trade marks
    • patents
    • design rights, and
    • copyright

    Protecting your IP is vital to securing your business interests and, if you are going to discuss confidential matters with another business or individual, you should consider using a One-way confidentiality agreement (if only one business is sharing information) or otherwise a standard mutual Non-disclosure agreement (NDA). A Letter of confidentiality is a more basic form of NDA or can be used as a prelude to a more comprehensive confidentiality agreement.

    If someone breaches your IP rights, consider issuing a Cease and desist letter for IP infringement. This is essentially a notice sent to the individuals or businesses using your IP rights without your consent, requesting them to stop and refrain from using it in the future.

    If you want to sell or transfer ownership of IP, you can do so using an Assignment of IP agreement.

  • What is copyright?

    Copyright is the form of IP which relates to tangible creative works such as musical compositions, literary or artistic works (including novels, computer software, paintings and photographs), databases and maps or technical drawings. If you own the copyright, others are not allowed to copy or adapt your works, or make them available to others, without your permission. If someone breaches your copyright, you may want to issue them with a Cease and desist letter.

    Copyright arises automatically and there is no need to register it but it can help to claim ownership if you have evidence that you had and created the work at a particular time. You'll need to make sure you have evidence that the copyrighted work was recorded in some form. For example, having a portfolio of the images with the time and date they were created can help prove you own the copyright.

    Copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years after their death. If there are multiple creators the duration of copyright is 70 years from the death of the last creator. If you publish your copyright material you can mark it with the international copyright symbol '©' followed by your name and the year of creation. This will notify people that you are asserting your intellectual property rights over the copyrighted material.

    For further information, read Copyright.

  • Design rights

    If you have a two or three-dimensional product, the way it looks will lead to design rights that prevent others from copying the design. Initially, these design rights will be unregistered but, as long as the design is new and original, you can apply for it to be registered in the UK, EU or internationally. Successfully registering your design means that your IP rights will last longer (up to 25 years). You can apply to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to register a design.

    It's important to note that design rights don't protect the rights over a product itself but protect the appearance of the product as a result of its shape, colours, texture or materials. For example, a floral pattern on a dining plate or dessert bowl can be protected by design rights but the bowl itself is not protected.

    If someone breaches your design rights, you can decide to issue them with a Cease and desist letter.

    For further information, read Design rights.

  • What is a patent?

    If you invent a product or invent a process to create a product, the way to protect your idea is to get a patent. However, this will only be granted if the product is new and not part of the 'state of the art' (ie not known to the general public), involves an inventive step and is capable of industrial application. A patent gives the inventor (or owner) a monopoly over the invention, preventing others from copying, manufacturing, selling or importing it without permission for up to 20 years from the date the patent application was made.

    Although you can apply to the IPO to patent an invention, this is a difficult process and drafting the patent application is a highly specialised activity. You may want to Ask a lawyer to help you decide whether to go ahead with a patent application.

    If you're discussing a potential patent with other individuals or businesses, you should consider using a One-way confidentiality agreement or another form of NDA. If someone breaches your patent, you can use a Cease and desist letter to protect your intellectual property.

    For more information, read Patents.

  • What is a trade mark?

    Trade marks are signs which distinguish the goods and services of a particular business from others. They form part of the branding and can include the name, logo, shape, slogan, or style of trading or packaging. Trade marks will automatically arise in an unregistered form but you can also apply to register them for a period of 10 years.

    If another business uses one of your trade marks, this can potentially constitute 'passing-off' where the other business has unfairly gained an advantage - and potentially damage your business - by gaining customers who were drawn in as a result of the trade marks. Consider using a Cease and desist letter to put an end to passing off in the first instance.

    For further information, read Trade marks and passing-off.

  • Cease and desist

    If another person or business is infringing on your intellectual property rights, the first step to take is to issue a Cease and desist letter for IP infringement. A cease and desist letter will help ensure that the infringing party has been notified that they are potentially breaching your IP rights and help minimise the need to go to court. For further information, read Cease and desist letters for IP infringement.

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