How to protect your intellectual property

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Man with chalk lightbulbs above his head to represent intellectual property

Whether your business relies on innovative products or the strength of your reputation, it almost certainly possesses some intellectual property. Here the IoD’s Information and Advisory Service (IAS) offers an introduction to protecting your intellectual assets…

Intellectual property (IP) is something unique that you, or your business, have physically created. Having the right type of IP protection, such as trademarking, is often a vital business asset – helping to protect you against the theft or copying of something you own. The IoD’s Information and Advisory Service (IAS) explains how to trademark your IP, and what to do if your rights are infringed…

Registering a trademark

Applications for a UK registration are filed at the Intellectual Property Office’s trademarks registry, and should contain details of the mark and the goods and services it will be used for. A golden rule for guarding your IP is to consult a trademark agent before and during the registration process. They can give you advice on trademark searches and how to ensure yours is properly protected – for example, if it is only safeguarded in the UK, or if it should be registered under the Madrid Protocol, which extends your protection to all countries that have signed the treaty. Copyright is automatically conferred upon the creator/author of an idea without any registration process.

The dos…

Ensure that any employment, freelance and consultancy contracts clearly state your ownership of all IP developed for you by your employees. You should keep a log of evidence recording the development of a piece of intellectual property – dated and signed copies of drawings and drafts, for example. Always use searches before investing in ideas that may already be protected by someone else, and evaluate the commercial justification for putting time and money in trademark protection. Conversely, you should also be aware that you could be responsible for IP infringements by your employees. Ensuring they understand the issues can help protect you against possible claims.

The don’ts…

If you’re developing something that might need trademarking (a new logo, for example) it is unwise to disclose information before you’ve applied for protection. But having your mark protected does not automatically prevent infringement of your IP rights, so you should be prepared to enforce them if necessary. That said, you should never take legal action without carefully assessing the merits and potential costs of your case first.

Intellectual property infringement? What to do

As a general rule, it’s up to you to detect infringements of your IP and take action. In the UK you are protected against ‘passing off’ (when the unauthorised use of IP damages your brand or goodwill or misleads consumers) even if your trademark isn’t registered. Whether it’s registered or not, drawing attention to an infringement may be enough to get the other party to stop. If this is unsuccessful, and the breach is on a commercial scale, you may be able to get trading standards officers or the police involved. Before taking any action you should assess the strength of your case and your evidence. Proving your case can be difficult and expensive, and legal advice is essential.

Could the IAS help you?

The IAS provides IoD members with free business intelligence and advice to help them run their companies more efficiently and successfully.

The Business Information Service is able to investigate questions on behalf of members and supply them with valuable information ranging from market forecasts and industry trends to trading abroad and employee salaries.

The Directors’ Advisory Service provides confidential, independent advice from specialists on issues ranging from raising finance to board and shareholders’ disputes.

Members can receive prompt and confidential business, personal tax and legal advice through using the IoD’s telephone helplines.

To find out more about the Information and Advisory Service, visit

iod.com/research

iod.com/advisory

iod.com/lawexpress

iod.com/taxline

iod.com/guidance

About author

Hannah Gresty

Hannah Gresty

Hannah Gresty is the assistant editor of Director magazine. She previously worked on a local news website and at a fashion PR company before joining the Director team in 2016.

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