An Introduction to Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) is a general term given to a variety of rights which protect various different elements, whether these are brands, inventions, literary works or designs. These are however, often misunderstood by the general public and businesses. Below is a brief description of two of the main rights which go to make up IP, what they relate to and how they can be utilised.

Trade Marks

Trademarking protects brand names, slogans, logos and other forms of representation which differentiate one business from another. However, as trade marks are registered in respect of the goods and services being offered by the business, it is possible for businesses with the same name to operate in different sectors.
Trade marks have to be registered in each geographic area where a business operates, or has customers, whether that is the UK, the EU, Guernsey, Jersey or further afield – it is applicable and available globally. When considering where a business should protect their name, it should look at where it markets itself and where its core customer base is. In addition, they should look to see what goods and services it currently provides and also what it might potentially provide in the future. As an application can't be added to, it is important to anticipate the needs of the business, in order to protect as much as possible from day one. Whilst future applications can be made, this of course adds to the cost of protecting the business.

Once a trade mark has been applied for, it is then published publicly in order to allow others to oppose the application, if they feel that they have a better or earlier right to the mark in question. Oppositions are not that common (approximately 10% of all UK applications are opposed) but they can be time consuming and costly to defend, so expert advice is often required in order to deal with these.

If the application goes unchallenged, or an opposition is defended successfully, then the mark will ultimately become registered. The time from application to registration for an unchallenged application varies but is typically 4 months in the UK and 7-8 months in the EU. Once registered, a trade mark typically lasts for 10 years, is renewable, and enables the owner to prevent others from using the same or similar name for the same or similar goods and services to them and can be licensed to other parties.

Copyright

Copyright refers to the protection from unauthorised copying of literary works, the definition of which is broad and includes films, plays, photographs and software code. Unlike other intellectual property rights, it does not have to be registered and occurs immediately upon the creation of the work. As a result of there being no central registration system, it is imperative the creation of work is documented, so that, in the event of a dispute, ownership of the original work can be verified easily. Whilst the rules vary from country to country as to the length of protection, this is typically 70 years after the date of death of the author of the work.

Article first publish in Business Brief, June 2019

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