I was speaking to a designer recently who said that people find IP rights very frightening.
That intrigued me. Why fear IP? Is it that you fear what you don’t understand? Is it that IP is a nuisance perhaps?
Whatever the reasons for this designer’s comment the reality is that IP is part and parcel of business. You need to be mindful of IP all the time, whether you’re starting a new project or business or growing or exiting a business.
It’s Possible It’s Not Your Intellectual Property
The fact that it’s possible that something you assume is yours is regarded by the legal system as not yours is a difficult concept to grasp perhaps. That’s because IP often resides within something else. At it’s simplest you may own a book but you don’t own the copyright in that book. It belongs to the author or the publisher. Similarly, you may own your website in the sense that it’s your site, but not necessarily own the copyright in its designs and functionality. What this means is that you can use it for your business but if you try to licence valuable parts of the design or functionality to others in order to generate a new income stream you would be prevented from doing so because you don’t own the copyright and designs in it.
Questions that arise in relation to IP include:
- What type of IP is it?
- How should you protect it so it can be yours?
- What should you do to turn your idea into IP that you can own?
- Is it essential to keep your idea secret so you can own valuable IP?
- Are you infringing on other people’s Intellectual Property?
What Is Intellectual Property?
Intellectual property (“IP”) is an umbrella term that describes a range of rights in intangible assets, such as:
- Copyright: in various works like photographs, words, music, logos, and software.
- Designs: rights in the shape of goods like ipads, or bottles, or in the surface design of materials such as wallpaper.
- Trademarks: rights in packaging, names, slogans, and logos.
- Patents: over an innovation which was previously unknown, like the bagless Dyson vacuum cleaner.
IP rights are territorial, which means you are generally protected in the countries in which you register them. For IP rights that arise automatically, such as copyright, you will have wider protection worldwide thanks to international treaties between countries.
Also, there are useful measures you can and should take in other countries to better protect your assets.
Owning Intellectual Property
To own intellectual property rights it’s necessary to take the right actions in relation to your ideas. That’s how you avoid discovering that your ideas become someone else’s intellectual property. It’s important when commissioning someone to carry out certain types of activity that results in new IP to have the right agreements in place.
Otherwise, you could find that:
- your logo belongs to the designer who created it.
- your website is not yours to do with as you like
Due to the IP default rules, it’s all too possible if you don’t know the right actions to take, to find that you pay for work to be created, but that you don’t own the rights to exploit it.
The biggest trap to avoid is finding that your idea for business software becomes the IP of those who develop it.
It’s necessary to think of IP in two ways. Firstly, whether you will be infringing on someone else’s intellectual property rights. Secondly, whether someone else is infringing on your rights.
Doing searches of various kinds and registering rights is key to protecting inventions and names. As it’s necessary to protect your turf against copycats, disputes can arise all too easily, so you need help to manage and resolve them, even if that doesn’t involve a last resort of using the court process.
Typically, not owning copyright to something important in your business is undesirable. This could result in the sale of your business falling through.
To protect IP involves implementing a range of legal agreements, not just when you’re setting up a new website, or licensing your IP or selling products and services online, but also as you grow the business. It becomes even more important with growth of a business to have good agreements in place that protect your intellectual property.
Protecting a new name, software and other assets against copying of all kinds, or an invention that could be patentable are reasons to deal with IP. It’s what makes your business valuable.
So going back to the question I started with, whether IP is frightening, it’s not IP that is the problem so much as ignorance of something important in business.
We are still at the early stages of the digital economy, but the more digital our lives become the more essential it is to get a good understanding of IP and protect your business. Start by having an intellectual property assessment and advice. We provide this at Azrights.