How To Protect Your Business Intellectual Property

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By guest writer Sally Bunce

Intellectual property (often referred to as IP) is property which has been either been designed or invented by someone. It might, for example, be a piece of writing or book or could even be a new invention. The essence of IP, though, is that it generally needs to be legally protected so that it can’t be stolen or used by anyone else, particularly if there’s a financial benefit involved.

Types of Intellectual Property Rights (IP)

Generally speaking, there are four main types of IP, namely:

1. Patents

2. Trademarks

3. Designs

4. Copyright

Depending on exactly what needs to be protected, that will ultimately determine the type of IP to utilize. Let’s look at each in turn.

Patents

A patent is a right, granted by government, to exclude others from making, using, or selling your invention. So if you wish to protect your work and prevent other people from stealing it, you can apply for a patent. By protecting the invention at the early stages, action could then be taken should someone try to steal the idea midway through the design process.

Trademarks

A trademark is a word, a design or a sign, which represents your goods or services (otherwise known as your brand name). It might be a logo, or use of words, perhaps even a combination of both. Trademarks often distinguish some of today’s bigger companies and you’ll no doubt be able to think of quite a few examples. Regardless, these need to be protected through The Intellectual Property Office. Once you’ve registered a trademark, you can then claim exclusive rights to your brand and can put a symbol against it, which will warn others not to use it. To do so constitutes a criminal offence.

Designs

Designs protect the way within which an actual product looks, e.g. its specific shape or colouring. For example, if you invest a lot into your industrial designs, registration can prevent your design from being copied and imitated by competitors.

Copyrights

Copyrights exist automatically when an original work is created; however, registration gives you a certificate that states that you are the owner, forbidding any reproduction from third parties. The certificate can also be used in court as evidence of ownership. Copyrights typically cover original, dramatic, musical, artistic and literary works (including computer programs). It also applies to performances, communication signals and sound recordings.

How To Protect your business

If you’re looking for ways to set up an IP then it’s always better to seek independent legal advice since there are many implications involved. Another good source of information is the Intellectual Property Office, which always provides advice on ways to apply, in addition to any consideration you need to take into account.

If you’re looking to protect a company name, the first step is to register your intended business name on the official business registration platform. You can do this online quite quickly and a search will automatically be run to see whether anyone else has your intended business name. If they have, you’ll be unable to register it but you must bear in mind that simply registering a name will not protect it as a registered trademark.

When registering a company, you also need to determine how the company will be officially set up. For example, whether you wish to trade as a sole owner, under a limited liability partnership or as an incorporated company, will greatly impact what you’ll be entitled to, and ultimately the valuation of your company with the IP.

But that’s not all patents can achieve. They can also assist in putting you ahead of the competition, open up new opportunities for joint ventures and even give your business the scope to sell all, or part, of your IP should you choose to, at any point in the future. Remember though, this is where the formation of your company becomes even more important since you want to avoid any future conflicting demands or ideas as to how the business should progress.

With so much to consider, two key things remain quite apparent. First, you need to seek legal advice from a good IP lawyer and second, you need to get the service of a good accountancy firm, with great experience in valuation. By taking advice from these two professionals you can rest assured that both your business – and your IP – will remain robust against any future IP theft, leaving you free to get on with your business plans without fear of things going wrong.

Here are some useful links to get you started in your research:

 About the author: Sally writes for Francis Clark Chartered Accountants, covering topics on how to protect and grow businesses, as well as manage personal finances.

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