The Law Shop is now closed. Please click here to find out more.

Intellectual Property for Businesses

Intellectual property is a term encompassing ideas, or ‘products of the mind’, which can be protected legally.

Most businesses will have some intellectual property and will reap the benefits of managing it effectively.

What IP does your business hold?

Your business is likely to hold at least some intellectual property, which will be distinct from its tangible assets such as office space and computer equipment.

Things which count as intellectual property generally distinguish your business from others. Products, designs and processes can count as intellectual property to a business, as can things such as your trading or brand name or your logo or visual identity. Any knowledge or trade secrets that set your business apart from others can also be classed as intellectual property.

It is important to identify what intellectual property your business is in possession of, so that you know what there is both to exploit and protect.

How valuable is your intellectual property to you?

The value of holding intellectual property can manifest itself in many ways. There may be the potential for profit from your IP by selling or licensing products which are protected, or the presence of IP within your business could make it more attractive to potential investors.

What is automatically protected?

There are some forms of protection that will be afforded to your intellectual property automatically and will not have to be registered.

Copyright automatically affords protection to the creators of original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, but could also protect things belonging to your business like your website content or any software you have developed. Copyright is sometimes marked by the © symbol, although this is not essential for your work to be protected.

Copyright prevents others from doing the following to your work:

  • copying it
  • distributing copies of it (for free or payment)
  • renting or lending copies of it
  • performing, showing or playing it in public
  • adapting it
  • putting it on the internet

Designs of objects are automatically protected by design rights for 10 years after they are sold or 15 years after they were created – whichever is earliest. The burden is however on you to prove that your design is infringed if you feel this is what has transpired.

Trade marks and patents

Trade marks and patents provide further protection to intellectual property, but must be registered.

You may wish to register a trade mark to protect your brand, or also to cover logos and slogans, for example. Registering a trade mark will enable you to take legal action against anyone who uses the brand without permission. It will also allow you use the famous ® symbol to deter anyone with such intentions.

If you develop a product or process as part of the business, then it may be a good idea to consider taking out a patent to protect the idea. With a patent in place you will be able to take legal action against anybody who makes, uses, sells or imports your idea without your permission. Patents can last as long as 20 years, but generally take 3 or 4 years to be granted.

To register a patent or trade mark you will need to apply to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and pay a fee. In total it costs £230 to apply for a patent online and £280 to do so by post. Registering a trade mark costs £170, or £200 if you use the Right Start service, whereby the IPO perform an initial assessment to check that your application meets the rules for registration.

Be warned, however, that registering a trade mark and patent in the UK only offers protection within this country, and that to secure the same protection overseas you will have to apply for an international trade mark or patent.