A business’ intellectual property can include a wide variety of intangible elements. Everything from a company’s name, logo, and slogan, to inventions, innovations, creative works and more are intellectual property. The IP elements of a brand’s identity form the basis of the company’s engagement with its customers, and how it differentiates itself from its competition, meaning that it is vital to secure and protect them.
When discussing innovations or creative works, your products themselves may represent IP, meaning that you need to safeguard them in order to sustain your competitive advantage and thwart attempts by other firms to replicate your success. Therefore, IP bears tremendous significance to businesses in all industries, and it is paramount to secure and protect it. This is the only way to effectively leverage the full value of your investments in product development, and build the reputation of your organisation and your customer base.
Here, the intellectual property experts at JMW Solicitors outline which business assets constitute IP and are eligible for legal protection, detail the types of protection available, and explain the procedures through which organisations can secure their IP and enjoy its maximum value.
What types of IP protection are available for businesses?
There are three principal types of IP protection for businesses: trademarks, copyright, and patents. Each safeguards a distinct type of asset and allows IP owners to commercialise their property effectively. IP regulations are designed to foster innovation, product development, and competition amongst businesses.
Trade marks protect combinations of words, images and sounds, and are therefore the ideal way to protect your brand assets. Logos, slogans, company and product names, jingles or proprietary sound effects, and even product or packaging designs may qualify for trademark protection. You must register an asset as a trade mark, and this requires that it be original to you, and sufficiently distinctive – in other words, you cannot register a trade mark that someone else owns, nor can you register an asset that is too generic.
Patents secure inventions, innovations, and enhancements to existing products. You must register for a patent, and similar criteria apply to those that restrict trade marks: your idea must be original, unpublished and unique. You must also be able to illustrate how the invention works – you cannot protect a concept or idea. A patent grants the owner the exclusive right to manufacture, use, sell or license their invention for a defined period – usually up to 20 years.
Copyright applies automatically, and grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to control its use, reproduction, distribution, and adaptation. Works to which copyright protection applies include literary, dramatic, and musical works, audio and video recordings, live broadcasts and other pieces of media. For businesses, this can include several works that are often overlooked – for example, the content on a company’s website, or product descriptions it produces for a catalogue.
How can a company secure its IP?
Fundamentally, a business’ IP strategy should aim to protect the assets it owns. This means registering eligible assets, monitoring for infringement by other entities, and using the legal powers conferred by IP rights to take action.
If you are unsure where to start, consider working with a seasoned intellectual property solicitor. With their experience, they can quickly identify all your business’ most valuable IP assets and advise you on the best ways to manage and protect them. They can provide guidance on expanding your businesses into an international market, or licensing and franchising options that could enable you to draw more value from your IP.
Most businesses could profit from a more proactive approach to managing their intellectual property and taking full advantage of their IP rights. Effective IP management can enhance customer relationships, improve growth prospects, release the maximum financial worth from the brand your business has nurtured.
By Philip Partington, Partner, Intellectual Property, JMW Solicitors