Your IP protection is only as strong as your willingness to enforce it – trying to cut corners will cost you more in the long-term.
Although you are afforded some protection through unregistered IP rights, if you want to be able to enforce these rights, you have to put protective measures in place This is namely registering your IP rights in the jurisdictions that you operate in.
There are four main IP rights: trade marks, patents, design rights and copyright. Copyright is the only right that does not need to be registered; it is an automatic right.
- Trade marks protect the elements of your brand that set you apart from other traders. These are typically the name of your business, product names and your logos, but can also be – amongst other things – images, sounds, colours and shapes which set your products and services apart from those of other traders
- Patents protect novel inventions. They become public as soon as they’re filed; the words ‘patent pending’ warn others off, but an awarded patent gives full protection. Applications are complex and should absolutely not be attempted without advice
- A design right protects the appearance of an object and copyright protects the expression of an original idea.
Strong IP protection starts with your brand. A trade mark must be distinctive, so an inventive brand name is always recommended. This will also help your business stand out from the crowd and make any claims of infringement easier to argue.
Make sure you conduct thorough clearance searches of any name you want to trademark. These searches can be outsourced to specialist service providers. The last thing you want is to have spent money on branding and a trade mark application, only to find out there is another company with a registered trade mark for the same name and to consequently receive a Notice of Threatened Opposition.
Get professional advice. While it is possible to make IP applications yourself, these are not straight-forward and we often have to untangle problems after people have tried to do it themselves.
If you have had your branding designed by a third-party designer, as opposed to an employee, ensure that the copyright in this is assigned to you in writing. If your branding has been designed by an employee – check your employment contracts automatically assign the copyright to you.
Once you have registered IP make sure you either subscribe to a ‘watch service’ – a third party provider will identify potentially infringing trade mark applications – or keep an eye on the internet or trade mark, patent and registered design registers for any infringing products or product names. If someone is infringing your registered IP, you can enforce your rights.
Another consideration, when sharing your innovative product/service with manufacturers, investors, suppliers and/or purchasers, is ensuring you have a robust non-disclosure agreement so your confidential information is kept safe.