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Intellectual Property Protection

AT A GLANCE

Many businesses, whether commercial, non-commercial or creative, don’t understand why it’s so important to register whatever they created for their own business… a brand, logo, service or invention. Doing this protects reputation and credibility.

Features and Benefits: Intellectual property covers many fields, including patents, trademarks, copyright, industrial design, geographical indication and trade secrets. Not all of these are relevant to everyone, but protecting intellectual property is extremely important. It can prevent theft, fraud or other harmful scams, and it ensures the hard work and creativity behind the work is recognised, rewarded, and preserved.

Positive Impact and Advantages: Registering your intellectual property can be time-consuming and complex, and professional assistance is highly recommended to ensure all applicable avenues are covered legally, nationally, and even internationally. Ideally, the process should be carried out by an experienced IP professional for several reasons, the most crucial of which is that once your application is approved, it cannot be changed, even if you have made a mistake.

Risks of Not Engaging an IP Professional: Graphic artists, marketing agencies, or individuals starting up their own new business and producing a logo, or ‘branding’, themselves from images found online, such as in royalty-free libraries, frequently do so without a complete UK or international Intellectual Property Office (IPO) search.

Intellectual Property: What You Have and What Needs to be Protected

The three primary types of registrable intellectual property are Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents. In general, trademarks protect brands, copyrights protect authors and artists, and patents protect inventors. Many businesses need all three to provide the best protection, but this depends entirely on their circumstances.

The main types of intellectual property are defined as follows:

Patents: Patents grant exclusive rights for an invention. Patent owners can decide how the invention is used by others in exchange for publicly sharing technical information about it and monetizing the invention.

Copyright: Copyright covers literary and artistic works, ranging from books, music, paintings and films to computer programs and technical drawings/designs.

Trademarks: Trademarks distinguish the goods or services of one enterprise from others. They can include brand names, logos, and symbols.

Also covered by intellectual property registration should be:

Industrial Designs: These relate to the ornamental or aesthetic aspects of an article, whether three-dimensional (like shape or surface) or two-dimensional (such as patterns or colour).

Geographical Indications: Used on goods with specific geographical origins, these signs indicate qualities or characteristics attributable to that place of origin. eg: Cheddar cheese, Scotch whisky, etc.

Trade Secrets: These protect confidential information that can be sold or licensed, preventing unauthorized acquisition or disclosure.

Safeguarding What is Yours - Why it is so Important

UK Intellectual Property Office surveys show that some 30% of all SMEs suffer IP infringement issues, which can result in having to change brand names and logos, and that can come at a high cost that is more than just financial. In some cases, businesses can be sued for up to half their historical profits.

Many trademark and design lawyers regularly search Google and Companies House to identify infringers on behalf of their clients, and registration with Companies House does not protect infringers who fail to check the Intellectual Property Office databases of registered trademarks and designs.

Also, buying a domain name does not protect infringers. Registered trademark owners automatically have ownership rights over associated domain names and can sue infringing domain name owners who use ‘confusingly similar’ names to the registered trademark holder.

Unfortunately, domain name sellers also typically fail to conduct due diligence IPO search checks before selling domain names. Therefore, entrepreneurial individuals or buyers of these services can unwittingly purchase designs and names that are already trademarked and that are the property of third parties.

A vitally important point to note here is that the sellers suffer no risk as, in law, it is the users who infringe who can be sued. Owners of registered trademarks can claim up to half the historical profits of the infringer. Infringers can be sued in either criminal or civil courts, resulting in either or both a criminal record and large financial penalty.

Key Tasks to Protect Your Intellectual Property

To avoid the infringement minefield, it is essential to search the IPO databases related to the geography and trade sectors of the business and related brand names. The EU IPO and UK IPO have different databases for trademarks and designs; over 2 million trademarks are on the registers, with more than 100,000 added every year.

The databases must be searched separately using different filters for exact words, phrases and similar words. It is recommended to consult a professional in the field to ensure all aspects are done correctly.

Over 350,000 oppositions have been lodged and a large percentage of SMEs suffer infringement problems because they failed to check properly, so it is absolutely critical that checks are carried out thoroughly. Infringers can be sued in either criminal or civil courts resulting in a criminal record and a large financial penalty.

How to be Protected and When to Use an IP Professional to Guide You

If you already have a brand and/or logo, you’ll need to ensure it is appropriate to register it. A good trademark name includes at least one unique or “distinctive” word, even if it also includes common, descriptive or generic terms. Trademarks are grouped into categories according to how strong they are:

A “fanciful” mark is the strongest type of trademark and is a made-up word or phrase. Famous brands “Xerox” and “Kleenex” are examples of fanciful marks.

An “arbitrary” mark, such as “Apple” for a computer brand, is another strong type of trademark that uses a real word or words in an unexpected or unusual way.

A “suggestive” mark hints at some characteristic of the products or services covered by the trademark. Suggestive marks combine an imaginative element with a descriptive element. Examples of suggestive marks are “Roach Motel” for a cockroach trap or “Pizza Heaven” for a restaurant.

A “merely descriptive” mark lacks an imaginative element and is, therefore, not strong enough to function as a trademark on its own. As an example, “The Meatball Bar” would be considered “merely descriptive” of a gastropub that serves meatballs. If the government deems a trademark to be “merely descriptive,” it will have to prove that it has been used in commerce for more than 5 years or add a substantial logo design. It will not be possible to claim exclusive rights in the descriptive parts of the trademark name; these will have to be “disclaimed.”

The next steps are to carry out the appropriate checks to ensure this new trademark will not be infringing an existing, registered trademark. If it is all clear, then it the process of registration can begin.

For those wishing to dive in head first and attempt to complete their own registration application, the UK IPO charges a set trademark online registration fee. The basic fee is for one trade class lasting ten years and is renewable. An additional fee is charged for each extra trade class.

Applications can take up to twelve weeks to process.

Both searches and registration can be a complex challenge to ensure all aspects are covered, and it is recommended that a certified intellectual property professional be consulted regarding both the searches and registration.

A credible IP professional is likely to offer a free review or inexpensive initial IP searches to check the initial status and then recommend what cover is required and the next steps.

Key Takeaways for GDPR and Data Protection

The GDPR represents an important move towards safeguarding the data privacy rights of individuals and promoting responsible data management practices.

The GDPR introduces characteristics such as a broader scope, strengthened data protection principles, individual rights, and accountability measures.

It positively affects businesses by nurturing client confidence, enhancing data management practises, providing a competitive advantage, and expanding market reach.

Noncompliance risks include financial penalties, reputational harm, legal repercussions, and loss of consumer confidence.

Adopting the GDPR demonstrates a dedication to data protection, security, and responsible data management.

Investing in the GDPR compliance protects businesses, fosters trust, and lays the groundwork for long-term success in the digital age.

By adopting the principles of the GDPR, businesses can prioritise data protection, increase consumer trust, and confidently navigate the ever-changing data privacy landscape.

Frequently Asked Questions about Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property FAQs

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property covers many fields: patents, trademarks, copyright, industrial design, geographical indication and trade secrets. Registering their design, image, services, or activity protects a business or product reputation and credibility, and registration can also be monetized, if appropriate.

How can an IP search/registration safeguard my business?

To avoid any infringement and possible legal action and consequent serious financial penalty, it is essential to search the official IP databases related to the geography and trade sectors of the business and related design and brand names and logos.

How do I find the right IP professional?

Check their certified qualifications, sector experience and endorsements, also their website and Linkedin profile, and offers for free advice time with no obligations.

Why do I need a patent, trademark or copyright?

Protecting intellectual property is extremely important, not just to prevent theft, fraud or other harmful scams, but it ensures hard work and creativity are recognized, rewarded, and preserved.

Why do I need an IP professional to help me?

Over 350,000 oppositions have been lodged to new designs/logos/names, etc., and a large percentage of SMEs suffer infringement problems due to not researching properly about their IP, so it is absolutely critical that checks are done thoroughly by someone who understands the work involved.

Is the IP registration process expensive?

At the time of writing (March 2024), the UK IPO standard trademark online registration fee is £170 for one trade class lasting ten years and renewable. There is an extra £50 IPO fee for each extra trade class, and an application can take up to 12 weeks to process.

Working with an experienced IP professional will come with additional fees, but in the long run, it can save you a fortune and potentially avoid having an application rejected or, worse still, making a mistake that is approved, and completed/approved applications cannot be changed.

What can happen if I don’t check my business name/logo/design/service?

Graphic artists, marketing agencies, or individuals starting up their own new business and producing a logo themselves from images found online, frequently create brand names or logos without a complete UK or international IPO search.

Unfortunately, in addition, domain name sellers also fail to conduct due diligence IPO search checks before selling domain names. The entrepreneurial individuals or buyers of these services can, therefore, unwittingly purchase designs and names which are already trademarked and the property of third parties. The sellers suffer no risk as, in law, it is the users who infringe and can be sued.

Owners of registered trademarks can claim up to half the historical profits of the infringer. Infringers can be sued in either criminal or civil courts, resulting in a criminal record and a large financial penalty.

How do IP experts work with businesses?

Trained trademark agents use several database filters to identify similar names/logos or designs to their clients’ and then assist their ongoing process towards registration. Some offer extended advice in related areas, such as NDAs for staff, i.e. as protection before a design or service is patented or trademarked, or legal advice to prevent theft of a design, or mediation if there is an infringement claim.

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