By Lawrence Smith-Higgins, head of business outreach and education at the Intellectual Property Office.
Intellectual Property is a term that is often heard but not always understood. Widely speaking, Intellectual Property allows people and businesses to own and protect their ideas, whatever form they come in, and as a result, is a vital investment for businesses wanting to maintain market share and grow their offering.
Intellectual property breaks down into four types:
1. Patents protect the features and processes that make things work. This lets inventors profit from their inventions.
A patent gives you the right to stop others from copying, manufacturing, selling, and importing your invention without your permission. The existence of your patent may be enough on its own to stop others from trying to exploit your invention. If it does not, it gives you the right to take legal action to stop them exploiting your invention and to claim damages.
The patent also allows you to:
• sell the invention and all the intellectual property rights
• license the invention to someone else but retain all the Intellectual Property rights
• discuss the invention with others in order to set up a business based around the invention.
2. Trade marks are symbols that distinguish your goods and services from those of your competitors. It can be for example words, brand names, logos or a combination of them all.
You can use your trade mark as a marketing tool so that customers can recognise your products or services.
A trade mark must be distinctive for the goods and services you provide. In other words it can be recognised as a sign that differentiates your goods or service from someone else's. A registered trade mark must be renewed every 10 years to keep it in force.
3. Design is all about the way an object looks: its shape, its visual appeal...it's all in the design.
A registered design is a legal right which protects the overall visual appearance of a product in the geographical area you register it. The visual features that form the design include such things as the lines, contours, colours, shape, texture, materials and the ornamentation of the product which give it a unique appearance.
4. Copyright protects many types of work, from music and lyrics to photographs and knitting patterns.
Copyright can protect:
• literary works, including novels, instruction manuals, computer programs, song lyrics, newspaper articles and some types of database
• dramatic works, including dance or mime
• musical works
• artistic works, including paintings, engravings, photographs, sculptures, collages, architecture, technical drawings, diagrams, maps and logos
• layouts or typographical arrangements used to publish a work, for a book for instance
• recordings of a work, including sound and film
• broadcasts of a work
The majority of people, including business owners, often think of intellectual property as relating only to inventions and patents, and as a consequence, are unaware of the profit and protection that can come from registering trade marks, designs and respecting copyrights.
There are also several myths surrounding intellectual property protection; that it is expensive, takes years and acts only as a badge or certification of something you’ve produced. The reality is hugely different; protecting your creations is vital, and will protect you from anybody else claiming credit, or more importantly, profiting from your ideas and products.
As for cost and time, many types of intellectual property measures are very cost effective, and there are options for accelerating applications and achieving pending status even if the registration is not yet complete.
The most important message about intellectual property is that is an investment well worth whatever amount of money and time you choose to spend on it.
Especially in today’s difficult economic climate, understanding and exploiting intellectual property should be a major priority in business, as it allows firms and individuals to look after what is unique to their company; if they don’t, their competitors will, and will leave them behind in the process.
There is huge scope for businesses and business owners to make the most of what they have created and own, in order to give themselves a competitive edge and become known for their ideas and creations.
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