Establishing your legal ownership over your intellectual property is vital to stop others profiting from your work or using it without your permission. The first step to protecting your intellectual property is knowing what kinds of IP protections are available to you under English law. Depending on what you have created, a different type of intellectual property protection will be relevant to you. Each type of intellectual protection also varies in terms of how you obtain it, what it covers, and how long it lasts. That’s why it is so critical to understand their differences and how they work.
In this article, we give a brief overview of the different types of IP Protection – trademarks, registered design, copyright and patents – to help you get started with protecting your intellectual property.
Intellectual property refers to something unique that you have ‘created using your mind’. For example, a piece of art, a logo or symbol, invention, or story. Protecting your intellectual property gives you the right to sell or transfer your ownership as well as make money from your creation.
It’s possible to own intellectual property even if you were not the one that created it. This is because you can buy intellectual property rights from the creator (or whoever owned it before you). Intellectual property is also relevant to both individuals and businesses.
What are the different types of intellectual property protection?
As we mentioned earlier, different types of intellectual property protection work differently. Some arise automatically, whereas you need to put in a formal application to obtain others. In this section, we’ll outline the key differences between each type of intellectual property protection under English law:
A trademark covers words, sounds, logos, colours or a combination of all four, but there are some restrictions about what you can trademark. For example, your proposed trademark cannot be offensive, be misleading, or be too indistinguishable or generic.
In addition, when you apply for a trademark you register your specific creation within relevant ‘classes’. That’s why it’s possible for different people to register similar trademarks that sit within different and unrelated classes.
You must apply to register your trademark with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). This application costs a minimum of £170 and it is not guaranteed that it will be successful. If the IPO finds that there is an existing trademark that is similar to yours or someone opposes the registration of your proposed trademark, your application could be rejected or delayed.
A trademark is a renewable protection that lasts 10 years to begin with, pending your renewal application. It is your responsibility to renew your trademark before it expires.
When you register your trademark in the UK, this does not cover you in other jurisdictions. However, it’s worth noting that you will get priority in other territories if you have an existing trademark. But if you intend to use your trade mark overseas, you will still need to make a separate application in the relevant territories.
If you’ve created a design, you can register it to protect its unique shape or pattern. This also applies to intangible designs such as GUIs (Graphical User Interface). This is the best way to establish legal ownership over a design and prove to others that you are the original creator of it.
You can only register new and original designs, but these must not be offensive, contain national flags, or use official emblems. Additionally, it is not possible to register the ‘functionality of a design’.
It costs £50 to register your design with the IPO. In order to register your design, you need to provide the IPO with detailed illustration of your design and an explanation of what it is that you are registering. Unlike trademarks, there is no inspection test which means your design will simply be registered.
Your design registration will last for 5 years. You can renew it 5 times – protecting your design for a maximum of 25 years.
Copyright is another type of IP protection that gives you legal ownership over your work and prevents others from using it without seeking your permission first.
Here’s an overview of what copyright covers:
Copyright arises automatically. This means you don’t need to apply or register for one. When you create an original work, the law immediately provides you with copyright.
The duration of copyright depends on what type of work it covers. For example, an original literary, musical or artistic work copyright will last until 70 years after the creator dies.
A patent is a type of IP protection that specifically covers inventions. It gives the inventor legal ownership over the invention and gives them the ability to take legal action against anyone that uses it without permission.
A patent covers new and innovative inventions that can be ‘made and used’, new technical processes, and new methods of doing something.
It is not possible to patent literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works (these are covered by copyright), new ways of doing business or of thinking, new medical treatments, scientific theories or discoveries, or software that has a non-technical purpose, amongst other things.
You need to send a patent application to the IPO. In order to successfully patent your work, it needs to be totally novel and not be disclosed before you apply for your patent.
If your patent application is successful, you will need to pay a minimum of £310. It’s worth noting that a patent application can actually take a number of years to go through.
A patent initially lasts for 5 years. After 5 years, you will have to renew it every year for it to remain valid. You can renew up to a maximum of 20 years.
Yes, it’s possible for a single invention or creation to have different types of IP protections associated with it. For instance, you could trademark the name of the product, register its shape as a design, and so on.
As we’ve seen in this article, the four basic types of intellectual property are trademarks, copyright, patents and registered design.
Knowing about the different types of intellectual property – and whether you need to apply for it or not – is absolutely essential to claim legal ownership over your creations and IP. Whether you’re an individual or business, protecting your unique assets is critical to ensuring nobody else profits off your work. As we’ve seen, the various different types of intellectual property protection come with their own specifications and application process. To give your application the best chance of success, it’s worth speaking to an expert lawyer that intimately understands the legal IP landscape.
If you don’t have IP, then you become a commodity business. IP is an invaluable business asset, as long as you secure your position and know your rights. Work with our dedicated IP lawyers to make sure your business is properly protected.
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