The concept of Intellectual Property (IP) may seem daunting, but for business owners in particular, an understanding of IP protection and IP law is essential in order to protect your work and your business interests.

What is IP?

IP is any tangible or intangible creation of the mind, including inventions, artistic and literary works, and any symbols, names or images that distinguish goods or services.

The nature of your IP will determine how it should be registered and protected under the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO), as there are four different categories of IP:

  • Patent
  • Trade mark
  • Copyright
  • Registered design

All of the classifications above protect your IP from unauthorised use by any third party, but the processes for applying, registering and renewing your IP rights may differ. Certain types of IP may also require protection under more than one category, so it’s essential that you consult a solicitor to ensure that your work is thoroughly protected for the long term.

The difference between ‘assignment’ and ‘licence’

An important consideration on IP for those in the creative industry is whether to assign or license their copyrighted work. Without any need for registration, written, dramatic or artistic works are automatically granted copyright protection for life plus 50 years in the UK.

An assignment permanently transfers one or all of the copyright rights, effectively giving the purchaser full ownership and control of your work, including the ability to re-sell or license it. On the other hand, a licence entails a temporary or limited transfer of copyright rights, either exclusively or to multiple parties at the same time. A licence also typically states the exact terms of usage for the copyrighted material, giving the copyright owner much more control. As such, licences are usually the recommended choice.

Why do businesses need to protect their IP?

For businesses in every industry, IP protection is essential in order to safeguard their business interests. Firstly, all aspects of a company’s brand, including its name and logo, should always be registered as a trade mark. This prevents any other business from using or imitating your branding, thus protecting your business’ brand identity, credibility and reputation.

The design of your business’ website or products, or even your company’s business model, may also be considered IP. Protecting these aspects of your business maintains the strength of your unique selling points and avoids unauthorised misuse by any third parties or competitors.

Drafting patent applications

In the case of inventions, these must be patented so that you or your business has full ownership rights, including the ability to submit the invention to a licensing company. Failing to do so not only puts you at risk of having your invention stolen or used without permission, but without a patent, the idea for an invention may be considered as lacking tangible boundaries, which could affect its marketability.

Applying for a patent doesn’t necessarily mean it will be granted, as there are strict guidelines with respect to the content of the application and the necessary steps for applying. Arguably the most crucial aspect of the application process is the drafting of the patent specification, a legal document that includes a written description of your invention, along with drawings, claims and a summarised abstract. The content of this document decides whether the patent will be granted and the exact rights covered by any patent granted.

Any misstep, inaccuracy or failure to comply with the IPO’s guidelines may lead to the application being terminated. For the best possible chance of success, a qualified solicitor should be engaged to prepare and file the application for you.

For more information or expert legal advice on any aspect of UK IP law, contact us at The London Law Practice today.


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