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How do I protect my intellectual property?

Your ideas, be that the names of your products and brands, inventions, specific designs or anything else you write, make, or produce, are all classed as your intellectual property.

They can be the driving force behind your business and should be protected. We explain how you can protect your IP and what to do if your intellectual property protection is infringed upon.

How do I protect my intellectual property?

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property is classed as something unique that you create.

This could be a specific product that your business sells, or the name and branding on a unique service you offer.

You own intellectual property if you are its creator, or if you have purchased the rights or trademark.

Intellectual property is an asset; something you can use and something that can help differentiate a business from its competition. Being able to protect that can take several forms.

Types of protection

Intellectual property protection falls within two areas: automatic protection, and applied protection.

Automatic protection covers copyright and design right.

Copyright – this protection is automatically applied whenever you create:

  • Web content
  • Sound and musical recordings
  • Software and databases
  • Original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work
  • Layouts for published written, dramatic and musical works
  • Illustration and photography
  • Film and television recordings

The protection afforded by copyright lasts for life, plus 50 years for most work. It can vary depending on the type of work and agreements made with other countries. Having copyright in place prevents your work being copied, distributed, adapted, and sold or shared without your permission.

You can denote the copyright on your work with the copyright symbol, your name, and the date the work was created. However, not showing this symbol doesn’t impact on the protection you have.

Design right – this enables you to protect and prevent the copying of a design you have created for up to 15 years.

This is automatically applied, however, you can also register a design to provide additional protection to your work.

Design right requires you to retain proof of when a design was created. This may involve keeping the files used when creating a digital design, or having access to dated and signed copies of any work to serve as proof, in the event of a dispute.

Applied protection covers the range of services you can use to provide additional cover to your intellectual property. These are:

Registered trade marks – in order to protect the name of a product you’ve created, or your brand, you can register a trade mark associated with it.

The process can take up to four months to do but once complete it protects your IP. This allows you to take legal action against anyone utilising your brand, or its likeness, without your permission.

If your product is a luxury item or piece of technology, this can be particularly valuable when contending with counterfeit items. A trade mark also allows you to sell your brand to someone else.

Patents – If your business makes use of or markets a specific technology that you’ve created, it’s important to secure a patent for it. This protects your invention and ensures you retain the rights to its use and distribution.

As with a registered trade mark, the process to secure a patent can take time – In the case of an invention, up to five years. This can be a costly process involving specialised patent lawyers to verify the suitability of your invention. An invention needs to be:

  • Not just a change to an existing design
  • Something that can be made
  • Unique or new

Patents can only be granted for certain inventions. If you’re considering taking out a patent on your invention, it’s necessary to secure professional advice first.

Design registry – this is the quickest method of additional protection, taking around a month to complete the application to register your design. As mentioned, this provides an additional level of protection to an existing design right.

This allows you to protect the look of a design for up to 25 years, with you having to renew your registered design every five years.

Having a registered design makes the process of taking action against someone for infringement much simpler. This is because your design is assigned with a registration number, which can serve as an additional piece of supporting evidence on your behalf.

Some ideas will need to be protected via a patent if the design is functional, such as component for technology, as opposed to a graphic or emblem, for example.

What to do if your IP is infringed

If your intellectual property is infringed upon you first need to look at the level of protection it is subjected to.

From there you can take out an injunction against the party carrying out the infringement on your IP. This means they would have to cease any activity that is seen as being part of that infringement.

Beyond an injunction you can seek legal action to claim any damages from a party, based on their use of your intellectual property. This could be based on any damage to your company’s reputation, considering the illegal use of your brand or its likeness, for example.

In severe cases, you should seek out criminal charges based on trade mark, copyright, or patent infringement. These charges can see violators hit with fines of tens of thousands of pounds.

Having adequate protection in place can be a huge help in proving your position as the original creator of a piece of work, or the holder of a patent or registered design.

How the FSB can help with protecting your intellectual property

FSB members are provided with access to a wide range of online legal information and documentation. This includes over 200 factsheets and more than 500 legal documents, including items which can help advise on the right intellectual property protection and how to apply for it. These documents are available in a downloadable format, so members can edit them to suit their specific business needs. This includes:

  • Agreements
  • Contracts
  • Forms
  • Letters
  • Notices 
  • Policies

Ensuring you have the right protection for your intellectual property can be easy if the only protection you need is automatically applied. Negotiating the time frames for additional protection, and what to do in the event of any infringement, can be a lengthy and costly process due to legal fees and application costs.

If you would like to learn more about how FSB can help protect your intellectual property, or the other documentation members gain access to, please visit our Online Legal Documents page or get in touch with a member of our team.

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