Intellectual Property Law - Copyright and Trademarks
Copyright and business
As a business you will probably find that you create large amounts of original intellectual property — such as articles, guides, videos or images — that you want to protect.
Copyright allows you to protect your intellectual property and stop others from using your material without your permission. If someone does use your material without permission, the copyright gives you the right to take legal action against them and claim damages.
Copyright also provides you with a way to license and distribute your intellectual property commercially, opening up a useful source of income.
What’s more, it is relatively easy to copyright something you have created, and there is no registering involved. Simply input the copyright symbol © (usually Alt + Ctrl + C in most word processor programs) along with the year of creation and your name or business name somewhere within the material, and it will then be recognised as your property.
Certain industries are represented by copyright collecting societies. These can agree licenses with users and collect royalties on the copyright holder’s behalf. A list of these societies can be found on the Intellectual Property Office’s website.
Under a licensing agreement, the person or company which owns intellectual property authorises a third party to make use of that property in a specific way, usually in exchange for an annual fee (termed a royalty).
For example, Microsoft currently receives billions of dollars a year in royalties from software companies which make use of its technology, and no-one can have failed to notice the recent fad for mobile phones which use designer brands and trademarks like Gucci and Prada under licence.
Licensing agreements are complicated legal documents and it is recommended that you enlist the services of a legal specialist. It is important to accurately and exhaustively specify how, where and when the third party may use the intellectual property. A poorly drafted licensing agreement may not adequately protect the intellectual property.
A trademark is any sign which distinguishes the goods and services provided by one trader from any other. It is possible to register logos, phrases, colour schemes, slogans and sometimes even sounds and gestures as trademarks.
Even if you haven't registered a trademark, you may still be able to claim that a rival is effectively stealing your brand or pretending to be associated with you. However, these claims can be extremely difficult to prove, and it is recommended you take expert legal advice.
A patent gives an inventor the exclusive right, for a period of time, to prevent others from making use of or selling the invention without his or her permission.
Usually, inventors will need to take out a patent in every country where they want their invention to be protected, and this can be a somewhat laborious undertaking. Patent law is always complicated, but in some foreign jurisdictions it can be almost incomprehensible. This is a highly specialised field of law, and if you don't take expert legal advice you run the risk of your invention being stolen (or you are accused of stealing someone else's invention).
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