Common questions I get asked are; ‘How do I patent my name?’ or ‘How do I protect my idea?’.
The thing is, I know what you’re trying to say, but sometimes the devil is in the details. In order to answer these questions and more, let me give you a few top tips for figuring out your intellectual property (IP).
1. What is it?
Intellectual property isn’t just one thing. It’s an umbrella term used to cover creations by individuals or businesses which include; trade marks, design, copyright and patents. IP also links to other areas such as confidentiality and trade secrets.
Understanding what IP you have within your business is vital to protecting it. For example, it is vitally important that you keep your patentable inventions secret at least until you have filed your application. However, keeping your company name a secret is obviously not advisable - the whole point of your brand is to get yourself known!
Why not have a go at our IP Equip tool for free to help you find out more about how IP relates to your business?
2. Do you own it?
‘It’s my idea, I own it.’ Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as that. IP protects the various expressions of an idea, not generally the idea itself. It is your business, but is it your IP?
A businesses website is often created by a website designer, an app by a software engineer, a logo by a graphic designer, or advertising material by a marketing agency. But if these creators are not part of your business, perhaps they’re a subcontractor or a friend, then you may not own what is being made for you. In these scenarios, and in the absence of employment or a contract stating ownership, copyright will stay with the creator.
This essentially means that these assets may not belong to your business and there may be limitations around how they may be used.
To find out the common issues that exist for businesses and what you may be able to do about them, you can use our IP Health Check tool. By answering a series of questions designed to identify some common problems, you can obtain a free report which helps you decide what to do next.
3. Search it
It’s not uncommon for a business to say, ‘I own my name, I’m registered at Companies House’. Now, although registering your company name at Companies House is very important, it is not in fact the thing that protects your name in trade. As discussed above, that is what a trade mark is for.
Here’s the great thing, you can search for your trade mark on the IPO website for free! With the click of a few mouse buttons and by typing your name or brand on the website, you can find out whether or not someone else has registered rights for something the same or similar to you.
4. Where and when?
Most businesses intend to grow, and this often means trading abroad. Identifying how to protect your assets in the rest of the world can be important to a business’ success. So here are a few points to consider.
You’ve got to remember, IP is often a regional right and can be treated differently from country to country. Your patents, registered trade marks and registered designs will only be protected in the countries in which you’re registered and granted those rights.
Copyright however is recognised automatically in most other countries. This means that your copyright will usually have protection without registration from the moment you create it. However be careful, certain countries will have different rules to what exactly is covered by copyright, as well as how long such rights should last in certain circumstances.
The IPO have a series of country guides which can help you understand certain nuances in certain countries. We also have an attaché network in Brazil, India, South East Asia and China which helps UK businesses understand and develop their IP in those countries.
5. Get help
Although these few basics steps should put you on the path to IP righteousness, you may need to find further help and support. It is out there, believe me.
There are a number of Business and IP Centres located around the UK who will help you develop and access your IP portfolio.
But not only that, there are attorneys that can help you file an application, manage your IP and enforce those rights. The Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (CITMA), The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) or The Law Society can help you if you’re looking for professional help.
Hopefully these brief tips have helped you think about how to use and develop your IP and protect your business. For more information, take a look at our website and the IP for Business tools that have been developed to help you.