Intellectual Property (IP) is often referred to as “creations of the mind”. It’s there to give you protection for your innovation and creativity – the stuff that makes you stand out from your competitors. IP is used as an umbrella term for a bundle of different types of rights that protect different aspects of innovation and creativity. The most common ones are patents, design rights, trade marks, copyright and trade secrets.
It can sometimes be very confusing working out which types of rights may be relevant to you, but copyright and trade marks are the two that are relevant to more or less every business.
Copyright is an automatic right that protects literary and artistic content. So, your marketing content, images and website content are all covered by copyright. But there is no registration system. Many businesses encounter problems in ensuring they own copyright or being able to prove when a work was created, both of which are critical if action is needed against copying. Good record keeping and understanding who is being commissioned to create material, along with the contractual arrangements in place, is important.
Common copyright issues arise because there is an incorrect belief amongst many that once something is on the internet it is OK for anyone to use. That isn’t the case so don’t copy! So called “free to use” image sites can also be a problem as they are reliant on the person uploading the image to be the copyright owner – and that is not always the case.
Trade marks are there to offer a system to protect anything that can be considered to be brand. Commonly this is names and logos, but it can include straplines, shapes, colours, sounds and even smells. If it makes you stand out from your competitors, and is something that your customers recognise you by and would consider to be part of your brand, then it has the potential to be a registered trade mark. The more unusual elements can be very difficult to protect – after all you are asking the government to grant you a monopoly right.
The value of a registered trade mark can be immense. As a business owner, how would you feel if someone copied your brand and either took away business destined for you and hit your bottom line or, worse still, did such a poor job that it damaged your reputation?
On the flip side, when you are choosing a new brand, just because you think it is the perfect name doesn’t mean it’s OK to use. A bit of risk assessment, including a trade mark register search, is a very sensible move ahead of finalising a decision on a new name or strapline.
The key with IP is to consider it early to avoid costly mistakes and conflicts, and ideally to register where possible before you launch.