Our intellectual property solicitors advise businesses and individuals on how to manage, protect and exploit the intellectual property they have developed within brands, inventions, designs, know-how and literary, artistic and musical works. This is sometimes called non-contentious intellectual property.
In many instances, the first step for our clients is working with us to identify the IP used and owned by their business and to see whether it is being used for profit. Intellectual property can be complex, many people think of it as merely innovative products and designs; however, it can be far more and include many aspects of your business, your brand name, logo and even your reputation in the marketplace.
It can even cover things such as your business plan, your specialist know-how and customer data. As we move further into a digital and technology led world the importance of IP for all business and individuals becomes more and more. We can provide IP audits for businesses from small start-ups and SMEs to large multinational organisations.
Protection of intellectual property rights
Intellectual property should be an important focus for any business from start-ups through to large corporations. All businesses face competition and will strive to do better than their competitors. A good awareness and the appropriate protection of intellectual property rights may enable a business lawfully to hold onto the advantage of being first to market or the reputation and quality of its goods and services.
Some IP rights arise automatically but others (and in particular stronger, more easily enforceable forms of protection) need to be registered at the appropriate Intellectual Property Office. If you do not register your rights then you may not have any legal redress or it may be more difficult to enforce your rights if others try to use your works, materials, products or inventions without your consent.
It is a concern for many business owners that the cost of protecting their IP is too high. However, this is usually only the case for global protection. The cost and the potential risk to your business can be substantially higher if you are not aware of your IP and how to protect it.
Trademarks can protect many different forms of branding, whether business and product names, logos, shapes, sounds and even smells. After identifying the branding that is important to your business, the first stage is to identify where you need your trade mark to be protected. This could be just in the UK, Europe or globally. If you do not register your branding as a trade mark in the relevant jurisdictions then it may be open to misuse by others. If this occurs, your only remedy under English law is to depend on the law of ‘passing off’ which can be difficult prove.
If you do not have a registered trade mark, you cannot use the ® symbol (and it is a criminal offence to do so in the UK) although you may use the ™ symbol with an unregistered trade mark.
Our solicitors can help you with the entire process, conducting searches to see if there are any conflicts with existing trademarks and registering your new trade mark in the most appropriate categories for your business.
Domain names are a related form of IP protection for branding which overlaps with trade marks registrations. It is generally easier to prevent cyber squatters from hijacking domain names which are more appropriate for your business if you have a trade mark registration.
Copyright does not protect ideas or broad concepts. Copyright only exists if your idea or creative activity is fixed or recorded in some way, for example in written text, software code, drawings, photographs, sculptures, works of architecture and works of artistic craftsmanship, films, broadcasts, theatrical plays, music and songs. Copyright automatically arises upon the creation of a work if it is a type of work capable of protection. There is no system of registration.
A patent needs to be registered by an inventor which gives them the right to stop anyone else from making, using or selling their invention without their permission. The potential availability of patent protection for your innovation can easily be lost if you disclose the working of the invention before filing a patent application.
It is strongly advised that you work with a specialist lawyer and/or patent attorney to discuss any potentially patentable inventions and, if appropriate, to progress a patent application as this is a complex area of law. Patent applications all have to be filed with the relevant patent office or intellectual property offices.
The monopoly rights provided by a successful patent application last for 20 years from the filing of the application. Like many areas of IP, patents are only valid in certain territories and so a patent registered in the UK, is only valid in the UK.
Design rights & product designs
Design protection is underused in the UK, possibly because of a lack of understanding on what can be protected. In the UK and Europe, design law protects the shape or outward appearance of a product. A basic form of unregistered protection arises automatically but designers can obtain a stronger form of protection by registering and protecting their designs.
In order to protect a design it must be an original and new product, whose shape is not determined by its function or the need to fit or match other products.
Our solicitors can help you ensure you understand how your design is protected before you launch it to your market. Applications to register product designs should be made before launch or, at the latest, within 12 months of the launch or first marketing.
Dealing with intellectual property infringements
Intellectual property rights will be infringed when a creation or work which is protected by law is used, copied or exploited without the consent of the creator, designer, inventor or owner. Our top ranked IP dispute resolution work with clients to deal with intellectual property infringements in a cost effective and proactive way - find out more about what they do here.