The laws in England and Wales, together with EU and international law, provide different rights and protections to your intellectual property. What these rights and protections are will generally depend upon what type of intellectual property is in question. Below, we’ve summarised the five main categories of legal protection afforded to the intellectual property of your business.
If you have created a literary or artistic work, then as the creator of that work, you will have certain rights, known as copyright. Whilst most people will know that copyright covers works including books, music, paintings, sculptures and films, what some business owners might not realise is that it can also cover computer programs, databases, adverts, maps and technical drawings.
The legal concept of copyright gives you two different types of rights. Firstly, as the creator of a piece of work covered by copyright, you or your business has economic rights, meaning you are allowed to derive financial reward from the use of your copyrighted works.
Secondly, as the creator you have certain moral rights which allow you to claim authorship of your works, to oppose any changes to your work that might harm your reputation, and also to authorise the use of your work or to place restrictions on how it can be used by others.
As a business owner, you may create a new product or process in the course of running your business. If this is the case, then you can apply for a patent, which is an exclusive right granted to protect the intellectual property of your invention.
In order to get a patent granted on your invention, you must put in all the relevant technical information in the patent application. Your patent application can be viewed by the general public, through services such as Ipsum, the Online Patent Information and Document Inspection Service.
If your patent application is successful, then you will usually receive exclusive rights which you can enforce to stop others from exploiting your invention commercially. As the patent holder, you have to give consent to others before they can make, use, distribute, import or sell your patented invention.
The concept of trademarks has developed over thousands of years, dating back to times when craftsmen would put their unique signature or mark on the things they made. In the present day, trademarks are signs which are used by a business to distinguish its goods or services from those of other business which may offer similar products.
A trademark will protect your intellectual property by conferring exclusive rights to your or your business over the use of your trademark. Usually this protection will last for 10 years, after which time you will have to renew it.
These days trademarks don’t necessarily have to be a sign, they can be any combination of words, letters, or numerals. Increasingly, companies are also applying trademarks to drawings, symbols and the particular styles of packaging they use. It is also possible to apply a trademark to other assets that are particular to your business or the products you produce, including fragrances, colour shades or even sounds.
An industrial design describes the look of a product that your business makes, this includes its shape, the surface used and any aesthetic features. Industrial designs also cover patterns, lines and colours used on the product. The industrial design of a product is what makes it attractive and appealing to consumers so it is important to protect your industrial designs in order to protect the commercial value of your product.
The protection of the intellectual property of an industrial design in the UK is covered by both European Union and UK laws.
The EU laws apply to community designs, where a design is “the appearance of the whole or a part of a product resulting from the features of, in particular, the lines, contours, colours, shape, texture and/or materials of the product itself and/or its ornamentation”. A design that is in some way novel, or one with an individual character, can be protected under the EU law for 3 years, or for up to 25 years if it is specifically registered.
There are also additional protections available under UK law for Design Rights, and Registered Designs. Design rights, for example, offer 10-year protection for the shape, internal and external dimensions of an original design.
The fifth major type of protection for an item of your intellectual property is a Geographical Indication. A Geographical Indication is a sign that can be used on goods made by an individual or a business if they have a specific geographical origin and possess, in the words of the World Intellectual Property Organization “qualities, a reputation or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that place of origin”. Examples include Parma ham and Melton Mowbray pork pies.
Geographical indications are most commonly applied to food and drink, but they can also be used to protect other products. Protecting a product based on a geographical indication involves one of three approaches, a special regime of protection, the use of a certification or a mark or an alternative method which focuses on the business practices involved in creating the product that is to be protected.