Protect | 24 September 2017

How can intellectual property rights protect my idea?

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There will be times when you choose to let others know about your ideas. If you’d like to know more, please see How do I protect my idea when sharing it?

You can also rely on other forms of protecting your idea, known as intellectual property rights. These rights can include copyright, patents, trademarks and trade secrets and they offer some defence against unauthorised exploitation of your idea.

So, what’s copyright and how does it help me?

A common misconception is that an idea can be copyrighted but this is not the case: an idea is intangible and copyright only applies to a recorded work such as documents, music, artwork. As soon as your idea is written down or developed into a prototype this will be protected by copyright. You don’t need to do anything to qualify for copyright protection but including copyright notices on works acts as a good reminder to others that your work is protected by copyright.

As the copyright owner, you have the exclusive rights to deal with that work by distributing it, modifying it or copying it. If another person does so without your permission they will be infringing your rights and you could bring a claim against them.

Depending on the jurisdiction, copyright works created by employees working for you may or may not be owned by you. In common law jurisdictions (e.g. the UK and the US), the employer, and not the employee, will be the copyright owner. However, the same is not true of those copyright works created by consultants or contractors so you should make sure you deal with this appropriately in your consultancy agreements. In civil law jurisdictions (e.g. the UAE), copyright remains with the employee unless appropriately assigned in writing. (see Employee and IP article).”

If you’d like to know more, please see Employees and IP. What do I need to know? on assigning IP from employees and How do I engage a consultant? for information on engaging consultants.

Should I patent my idea?

If your idea is an invention or an industrial process it may be possible to obtain a patent to protect it. It is expensive and time consuming to obtain a patent so you should think carefully about whether this approach is right for you. You’ll first need proper searches done to see if others have already patented the idea as you can’t obtain a patent if your idea is already out there or is not sufficiently novel. The benefits of patent protection are that it gives you an exclusive right to sell, use and manufacture the invention.

Would registering a trade mark help?

Many businesses have trade marks which enable their products or services to be distinguished from competitors and add great value to their brand. A trade mark can be a name, word, symbol, design or slogan. You must register a trade mark with the intellectual property office in the territories you wish to have protection. Descriptive trade marks cannot be registered (i.e. the words only describe a product or service like “cold and creamy” or “high quality”) nor anything that is confusingly similar to another trade mark. Having a trade mark registration will allow you to license others to use it and take legal action against anyone who uses your trade mark without your permission.

What about trade secrets?

A trade secret is business information which a business keeps secret from others to gain a competitive advantage (e.g. the recipe for a soft drink, software or processes). It’s not possible to register a trade secret so this is where a confidentiality agreement comes into play.

If you’d like to know more about confidentiality agreements, please see Confidentiality Agreements: what you need to know.

Click here to generate your ScaleUp Confidentiality Agreement (One Way).

Click here to generate your ScaleUp Confidentiality Agreement (Mutual).

What else do I need to consider?

One thing to bear in mind is that there is little that can be done to stop another business or individual from developing a similar idea and marketing or selling it. They are free to do so as long as they have not copied your work or breached confidentiality obligations. Taking time at the outset to consider what’s important to your business and considering the options for protecting your ideas, products or services is crucial. You should continue to keep an eye on the market to ensure your intellectual property rights are not being infringed upon and be ready to take action if they are.

PROTECT your business

If you’d like to know more, please see PROTECT my business for information on intellectual property, technology and more.