All businesses need to be aware of intellectual property rights (“IPRs”) and take the necessary measures to protect them. Regardless of whether you are a multinational corporation or a recently established startup, you do have intellectual property. By making sure your IPRs are adequately safeguarded, you’re raising the value of your business.
What Is IP?
Intellectual property is virtually anything novel, original or unique to you and your business. Inventions, designs, logos, names, content, new software and many more all qualify as IP. IPRs are generally divided into 4 categories, which we will briefly outline in this article. These are patents, trademarks, designs and copyright.
The moment you realise you do have created or established IP you need to act and take the necessary legal steps to protect them. You will therefore gain or retain your competitive advantage, be able to establish a brand and make your company recognisable to your customers.
Who Owns The IPRs?
Personally created works or inventions are simply owned by the creator, and this is the general rule. When we talk about companies however, things get a little bit trickier. If you create something under an employment contract, it will usually be owned by the business. On the other hand, if you are a business owner and a contractor is creating something for you, let’s say writing software code, you need to have an assignment contract in place which specifically addresses the issue of IPRs ownership, in order to gain ownership.
Moreover, trademarks are owned by the business itself, and not by a person. The other forms of IP can also be assigned to the business and not to a natural person.
Please also note that IPRs can be transferred or sold. You can also license certain IP and charge fees for their use.
Copyright is any work that is recorded in some way – it can be music, dramatic, or artistic work, and even software coding is considered protected by copyright. It arises with the creation of the work, and is granted automatic protection, as you do not need to register it or report it in any way. It prohibits others from using your work without your permission, and it gives you the right to take legal action against infringement or plagiarism.
Although copyright will arise automatically as we said, it is advisable to note that a work is protected, by applying the internationally recognised copyright sign © , the name of the owner and the year at the bottom of the page of publishing, on a website for example.
Trademark can be anything that identifies a product or company, such as names, logos, slogans, words, and symbols. It’s crucial to protect the associations to your business or products that are unique to you, as this is a massive marketing advantage.
Trademarks need to be registered in any country where protection is sought. Protection in the entire European Union can be established by registering a community trademark, which is a convenient solution if you’re seeking protection in more EU states.
Patent protection applies to technical inventions, products, or processes. It prevents others from reproducing, selling, or copying your invention without your consent. Protection usually lasts up to 20 years, and in some countries it can be renewed.
When you register a patent the specifications of your invention will enter the public domain, so it can be used to easily solve similar technical problems. Before developing a product or process that you would like to patent, please carefully research whether it hasn’t already been registered, so you’re not violating the patent rights of others.
Registration of a patent is a hefty procedure which requires a lot of examinations. Therefore you should evaluate the pros and cons of making an application. It is registered on a country by country basis. In the EU, application to European Patent Office (“EPO”) can grant you protection in more states.
If you create the objective appearance of a product, including shape, packaging etc., design rights will automatically arise. However, in case your rights have been infringed upon, the burden of proof is on you to prove that the other party did not come up independently with the design. The solution is to register your design, and protection will last 20 years. Application and protection are done on a country by country basis, with the possibility of registering a single Community Registered Design in the European Union.
Additional Remarks: Protect Your Intellectual Property
An important aspect of IP protection is to identify them and take measures on time. Make sure you have Non-disclosure agreements in place from the outset of your business operations.
As to your employees and contractors, make sure that ownership of IPRs if such appear, will belong to you or your company. It’s advisable to include such clauses in all contracts, and always in writing if you want to protect your intellectual property.
Another important remark is to carefully report date, time, and place where a creation was made, and to describe everything diligently, of course adopting the necessary precautions that such information does not enter the public domain. Such small details can make a significant difference to the IP authorities and can ease the application processes.