Intellectual property laws serve to protect many intangible assets that businesses own – including elements of branding, ideas and inventions a company develops and works that it produces. These may be crucial for sustaining long-term growth and building strong relationships between businesses and their customers. In terms of inventions and innovative developments, IP protections may offer a vital shield to a business’ competitive advantages.
For this reason, understanding the intricacies of intellectual property (IP) is essential for businesses of all sizes and across industries. Although the immediate merits of IP protection may seem evident in this case, it is worth noting that a well-managed brand can evolve into one of a company’s most prized assets. Adequate protective measures not only secure these assets but also pave the way for their full commercial exploitation. To achieve this, you must identify the assets your business owns that qualify for legal protection and leverage this security to nurture and monetise them.
Here, the seasoned team of IP experts at JMW Solicitors explains how legal protections for IP assets work, the assets that qualify for protection, and the steps businesses need to take to enjoy the maximum level of security for their valuable brand assets and ideas.
What are the most common intellectual property assets for businesses?
Various types of intangible assets in a business may be eligible for legal protection. There are three principal forms of IP right that are designed to protect most of the assets companies generally own: trade marks, patents and copyright. Alongside these, there are others that will apply in specific cases, such as trade secrets and database rights. Each type of protection is tailored for a specific category of asset, so identifying which assets qualify and which protections apply is the first step towards comprehensive IP security.
Trade marks serve to defend the brand elements that identify your company and set it apart from the competition. This includes brand names, logos, catchphrases, jingles, product names, packaging designs, and more. These assets must be unique in order to qualify for trade mark protection, and businesses must register assets in order to secure them.
Patents operate in a similar way, and confer upon inventors the exclusive rights to their inventions. Patent protection lasts for a default term of up to five years in the UK, with the option to extend this up to 20 years through annual renewals. As with trade marks, businesses must register their inventions to achieve patent-protected status.
Both trade marks and patents must be original and unique to qualify for legal protection – if someone else already owns the same or a similar asset, it will not be eligible. In the case of patents, products cannot have been made available previously if they are to qualify. The rights conferred by these protections are jurisdictional, meaning that they only apply in the location where the asset is registered. If your business trades in more than one country, you may need to register relevant assets in each jurisdiction to benefit from full protection and take action against infringement.
Finally, copyright safeguards original works of writing, music, drama, art or software. Copyright protection is automatic and generally applies in much the same way around the world. Many businesses fail to enforce copyright protection because they misunderstand its parameters, and may not realise that it applies to many common assets. These include written product descriptions and photographs or illustrations you have produced, copy you have written for your company website and, in some cases, databases of information.
How can businesses make sure their IP stays secure?
Understanding these various forms of IP protection is pivotal for any business aiming to shield its assets and enjoy their maximum value. IP must be managed and approached carefully, and the challenges that can arise as specific to each company’s individual circumstances. For example, while the Berne Convention (1886) sets minimum standards for copyright protection for 181 countries around the world, it is vital to note that enforcement mechanisms can vary significantly between countries. As such, businesses that trade across borders may have specific requirements in making sure IP assets are protected effectively.
The most important step organisations can take is to monitor the competition for any attempts to infringe on their IP. An innovative idea or design element could be particularly vulnerable to efforts by others in your industry to copy it, and while it is difficult for businesses to determine what counts as infringement without legal advice, having the necessary protections in place puts you in the best position to defend them.
For support in identifying, protecting, commercialising and defending IP assets, speak to an experienced intellectual property solicitor. They can typically offer a range of services, from supporting the development and registration of unique assets, through to taking legal action against parties that try to infringe on your rights. In some cases, they may even provide monitoring services to help you detect infringement and take action more easily.
With a thorough approach to cataloguing and registering business assets, you can ensure that all of your most valuable IP benefits from the highest levels of legal protection. This will establish a foundation for your company to grow, free from the risk of competitors damaging your reputation or taking your most valuable ideas.