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What is Intellectual Property and why is it important to a business?

I have often had clients tell me that they would like to “trade mark” an idea. They go further to say that they came up with the idea and they do not want anyone else to use it. I would always have to break the news to them that an idea cannot be protected or “trade marked”, however, the expression of that idea certainly can.

These ideas can be protected by the three main types of Intellectual property which are Trade Marks, Design, Patent and Copyright.

Trade marks protect words, phrases, signs, logos, slogans that are used to differentiate the products or services of one business from another. Examples of trade marks are Coca Cola, Pepsi, Apple and Samsung. These trade marks act as a badge of origin so that consumers of products and users of services can easily determine the source of the product or service of their choice.

Section 1 of the Trade Marks Act 1994 defines a trade mark as any sign which is capable-

  1. of being represented in the register in a manner which enables the registrar and other competent authorities and the public to determine the clear and precise subject matter of the protection afforded to the proprietor, and

  2. of distinguishing goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings.

Patents relate to inventions, which most of the time have to be new. In a Samsung or Apple phone, Patents would be granted to the cutting edge technology found in the mobile phone. Once a Patent is granted, it gives the owner of the Patent monopoly for a certain amount of time over the use of the invention.

Section 1 of the Patents Act 1977 (as amended) states that a Patent may be granted only for an invention in respect of which the following conditions are satisfied, that is to say -

  1. The invention is new;

  2. It involves an inventive step;

  3. It is capable of industrial application;

Designs relate to the aesthetic features (the way it looks) of an article, and they also most of the time, have to be new. Examples of Designs would be the shape of a coca cola bottle or the shape of a sports car. A registered Design grants the owner monopoly over the use of the Design for a certain amount of time.

Copyrights relate to original literary work such as music, art and drama; music, film, television and sound recordings; broadcasts. Copyright also relates to original non-literary work such as software. In the United Kingdom and around the world, you are not required to register a Copyright before you get protection, in fact in the United Kingdom, there is no register of Copyrights. Once the Copyright is created, it belongs to you.

Why is Intellectual Property important to a business?

One of the most important benefits of owning Intellectual Property is that you have monopoly for a certain period of time. You are permitted to prevent your competitors from using similar trade marks, using your invention or copying the design of your product. In the United Kingdom, trade marks last forever subject to renewals every 10 years. Patents last for 20 years subject to yearly renewals while Designs last for 25 years subject to renewals every five years.

Intellectual Property can become a very valuable asset which can be licensed or sold for a huge profit.

You may have spent a lot of time and money coming up with innovative ideas, Intellectual Property protection is there to help you reap your rewards.


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