How long does intellectual property last?
Intellectual property or IP is a valuable business asset and it is crucial that it is adequately protected. We take a look at how long intellectual property rights last and when to renew registrations.
It is often the case that businesses own more intellectual property than they realise. Taking an inventory of all of your intellectual property can be useful so that you can see exactly what you hold, whether it is adequately protected and when it was created.
The date of creation or registration is important because this will generally indicate how long you have rights over the intellectual property in question. This will enable you to monitor your rights and to take steps to enforce them if necessary.
Definition of intellectual property
Intellectual property comprises anything that has been created. This includes designs, inventions, software, literary and artistic work, branding, logos, marketing materials and written content.
Intellectual property rights
Intellectual property rights law seeks to prevent others from benefiting from the value of what has been created. Some rights exist automatically while others can be applied for.
Copyright arises automatically and protects intellectual property such as written content, video content, photography, music, art and literary works.
Trade marks and designs can be registered to provide protection. Trade marks include logos, names, phrases or other identifiers that allow customers to recognise your business. Designs include the composition, colour, shape or configuration of a 3D object.
Some protection exists if a design is unregistered, but this is limited and it is easier to prove ownership if you have registered a design.
Patents protect inventions, technical solutions and processes and need to be applied for.
Does IP protection have a time limit?
Intellectual Property rights last differing lengths of time, depending on the type. It is important to understand exactly what intellectual property you have and the relevant time limit so that you can take action to extend this where necessary and possible. Keeping a record of relevant dates will also assist you if you need to protect your intellectual property from infringement.
How long do IP rights last?
Copyright protection is automatic and starts as soon as the work is created. There is no register of copyrighted works in the UK, but you are entitled to mark your work with the copyright symbol ©, your name and the year it was created. Even if you do not mark your work, it will still be protected.
The length of time copyright lasts depends on the work created.
Work made for hire – where work is commissioned, it is protected for 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation
Computer-generated work – where there is no human author, protection lasts for 50 years from the date of creation
Broadcast work – protected for 50 years from the date of the first broadcast
Written and artistic work – protected for 70 years after the author’s death or, where the author is unknown, from the end of the year in which it was written or 70 years from the date it was first published or exhibited, whichever is the later
Music and sound recording – protected for 70 years from the date of first publication
Film – protected for 70 years after the death of the director, screenplay author and composer
Literary, dramatic and musical works unpublished at the end of 1988 and where the author died before 1969 – copyright expires on 31 December 2039
If you do not register a design, you will still have some protection. The length of time you are protected will depend on the type of design.
Shape and configuration of 3D designs – either 10 years after the first sale or 15 years after creation, whichever is sooner. Others are permitted to use the design if they ask to within the last 5 years of the protected period
Appearance, including shape, material and colour – protected for three years from the date the design is released publicly
To identify the date of creation, you are advised to document this. A solicitor will be able to certify your evidence, such as drawings and photos, at the time the intellectual property is created.
You can choose to register your design, provided it is new, so that it is easier to protect your rights. Design registration lasts 5 years and can be renewed every 5 years up to a maximum of 25 years.
You can apply to renew your registered design up to 6 months before it expires or within 1 month after. If you do not renew within this window, you will need to pay a late payment fee as well as the renewal fee.
If you are late renewing the design, you have a further 6 months from the date of expiry in which to renew and you will need to provide a sound reason for missing the deadline. Your application may be denied.
Once registered, a UK trade mark lasts for 10 years. It can be renewed as many times as you wish provided that you remember to keep renewing it by the deadline. The period in which a trade mark can be renewed is in the 6 months before expiry and up to 6 months after expiry.
If your expiry date was more than 6 months ago, you may be able to restore your trade mark to the trade mark register by making a postal application. This should be done within 6 months of your trade mark from being removed from the register.
You will need to include a statement explaining why you missed the deadline and pay a fee to have your application considered. Your application may be rejected and if it is, the fee will not be refunded.
If you have invented something, you are advised to protect this by applying for a patent. This will allow you to take legal action against someone who tries to benefit from your creation without your authorisation.
You should check before applying that a patent is the right option and that your invention qualifies. If you are granted a patent, you can renew this for up to 20 years.
A patent should first be renewed on the fourth anniversary of the date on which you initially filed your application and annually thereafter.
If your application took longer than 3 years and 9 months after the date you filed it to be granted, your first renewal will be due 3 months after the date on which your patent was granted. You will need to pay the renewal fee by the last day of the third month. A fee is payable for each year of renewal.
Applications to renew need to be made up to 3 months before the due date and no more than one month afterwards. If you miss this window, you can pay a late renewal fee and apply within 6 months of the due date. Your application could be rejected. If it is accepted, you will then need to send a renewal form and renewal fee.
If you renew online, you can ask the Intellectual Property Office to send you a reminder to renew. You should also set up your own reminder however, as it is important not to miss the renewal deadline.
Managing your intellectual property renewals
While IP law seeks to help owners protect their rights, it is still important to have a reliable system in place to manage your intellectual property, including dealing with renewals of design registrations, trade marks and patents.
If you forget to renew your registrations, you could lose the ability to enforce your rights of ownership.
We can work with you to both identify the intellectual property that you hold and draw up a schedule for attending to applications for renewals to ensure that your assets are fully protected.
This can also prevent you from falling victim to fraudsters who frequently contact businesses requesting payments for registration.
Monetising your intellectual property
Ensuring your IP rights are properly managed is also crucial if you intend on monetising your intellectual property, for example, licensing software you have created or franchising your business.
We can advise you on IP law and the best way to protect your intellectual property rights for as long as possible while using them to strengthen your business and bring in revenue where appropriate.
How our intellectual property solicitors can help you manage your IP rights
At Saunders Law, our partner-led team have over 40 years of experience, which we put to use in supporting our clients with a wide range of intellectual property matters. We have developed an excellent track record of successfully protecting our clients’ interests and have been independently recognised with strong rankings in highly respect client guides the Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners.
We also represent clients in respect of intellectual property disputes. We always work to resolve matters promptly and without the need for litigation wherever possible.
Speak to our intellectual property law solicitors today
Our IP team are experts in intellectual property rights law, dealing with a wide range of IP issues across many sectors. We can advise you on renewing your IP registration and protection as well as on other aspects of managing your IP.
We offer a free initial consultation so that you can discuss your needs and see whether we can help you and your business.
Our intellectual property law advice to you will be clear, practical and actionable. We have a strong commercial focus and we will work with you and your business to identify the best options for dealing with your IP assets.