PatentsIf your product has new technical features, you may be able to protect them with a patent. Patents protect how things work they don’t protect the aesthetics of how the design looks. To qualify for patent protection, your product must fulfil three criteria:
- It must be new and have never been disclosed to the public (which is why you must keep it a secret until you have protection in place).
- It must involve an inventive step, i.e. your invention must take the technology a step forward and not be an obvious development of some existing technology.
- It must be capable of industrial application. This means you must be able to turn it into a product you can sell.
- original (i.e., not a common design)
- have individual character
- not be specifically excluded from protection
Copyright protectionWhen people talk about copyright they often think about art, music or literature because all of these are automatically protected if they are your own original work. But the range of protection copyright gives is actually much broader than that. Take, for example, a training company. All of their training materials would be classed as literary works so they are protected by copyright laws. If the company hosted a seminar or workshop and filmed it, they would also own the copyright in the production. A company which creates products will own the copyright in the plans and technical drawings used to produce them and their surface decoration. Copyright also protects computer code, blogs and social media posts. As you can see, it would be very rare to find a company which owned no copyright materials at all. Copyright protection, as we have said, arises automatically, so there is no need to register anything. However, it does not create a monopoly or give you the exclusivity that comes with a patent or registered design (or for that matter trademarks which we will discuss next). This means that if someone else had the same idea as you, but independently produced for example training materials or software that achieved the same result as your product or service, you would not be able to stop them unless you had proof that they had copied you.
TrademarksFinally, I want to talk about trademarks, a form of intellectual property that all businesses will come across. Trade marks protect brands, and most people will just think about protecting business names and logos. However, you can gain much greater protection for you brand than just this. Trade marks protect anything which distinguishes your products and services from those of your competitors, so you could trade mark packaging, like the shape of the Coca Cola bottle, or colours, such as green for BP filing stations. Even smells and sounds can be trademarked so long as you can represent them graphically, which is a requirement of registering a trade mark. They can last for ever if you continue to re-register them every ten years, but this can also be a disadvantage. Once registered, a trade mark is set in stone so if, for example, you rebrand and update your logo, you can’t amend your trade mark. You have to register a new one and this can be quite costly. Once you have identified what intellectual property rights you have to protect your products, services and business you need to think about the different ways to make money from them. That is what were going to look at in the next article in this series. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the intellectual property rights you may have, or how to protect them, get in touch at email@example.com. How to win a court case without a lawyer
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