Commercial litigation associate Shamina Chowdhury talks intellectual property rights
When the words 'intellectual property' are said, most people's immediate thoughts go straight to the big-hitters in the commercial world; the famous Coca-Cola trademarks of an iconic stylized logo and bottle or Apple's viciously guarded 'slide-to-unlock' patent.
However, trademarks, patents and other Intellectual Property (IP) rights are not only reserved for household names. Every business, whether small and local or large and international, can take advantage of these rights - some of which arise automatically without the need for registration.
IP rights are essential in protecting a business' brand, inventions and goodwill, allowing consumers to associate quality goods and services with a name. This will be your business name which they will then go on to recommend to other consumers which develops a strong and varied customer-base. In fact, when businesses are facing such difficult financial times, goodwill is priceless.
So what do business owners need to look out for? The main IP rights are as follows:
- Copyright: available for original works, including entrepreneurial works, which are recorded in some way. There is no need for the work to hold any artistic merit; something as simple as a pamphlet describing business services can be protected by copyright, so long as it is original. For businesses that use original, written documents or pictures/images, copyright is essential. Most significantly, it arises automatically and it can be used to stop the unauthorised copying of the work for a period of up to 70 years.
- Trademarks and passing off: these rights protect marks that distinguish a business' goods and services from those of others. Trademarks must be registered and last in perpetuity, but even if the mark has not been registered, a business can take action against an infringer of their 'unregistered' mark by making a claim for passing off. As long as the name or brand is known to potential customers and the use of a similar mark has caused confusion, causing damage to the business, an action for passing off will succeed.
- Design rights: can be both registered and unregistered and last for up to 25 years. Design rights protect the visual appearance of a product or part of a product and must only be novel and have individual character to be protectable.
- Patents: this right grants a 20 year monopoly over an invention that is new and involves an inventive step. Inventions are not easy to come by so if a business has developed one, it would be prudent to take the necessary patent-steps as soon as possible to ensure that the idea is kept for the benefit of the business.
- Confidential information: arguably some of the most important rights, these are not IP rights in the classic sense. As long as information remains a secret, the right arises automatically. This right can be crucial for preventing ex-employees from disclosing information that has been disclosed in circumstances that impose obligations of confidence without authorization.
All enterprises should make protecting their IP rights a business priority. Valuable assets like brand and goodwill are a vital component of commercial success - and protecting them doesn't have to be difficult or time-consuming.
Our Director-led Business Services team advises a diverse range of business and individuals in commerce and industry. From small and medium sized business, to international PLCs, our lawyers are adept at providing a comprehensive yet tailored service. Stephen Gilchrist, assisted by Shamina Chowdhury take the lead on IP-related matters and would be happy to have a free, no-obligation discussion. Contact Stephen on 0207 632 4300.