Aude Charillon is the librarian at the Business & IP Centre Newcastle, based at Newcastle City Library. As an information professional, it is her role to help citizens access the information they need. She and her colleagues at the Centre are certified by the UK Intellectual Property Office to provide initial information about intellectual property to entrepreneurs and inventors.
One of the aspects that is often omitted when starting a business is intellectual property– yet it’s one that can quickly lead you into trouble. At the Business & IP Centre Newcastle, we advise to consider intellectual property within your business under the three following facets:
- avoid infringement;
- understand what you own;
- take steps to protect your creations.
Intellectual property in brief
Intellectual property (IP) protects the expression of an idea. As the owner of the IP rights you control how your IP assets may be used – or, perhaps more importantly, how they may not be used.
There are four main types of IP which protect different notions.
- Copyright protects original works. Copyrighted works include images, videos, text, sound recordings…
- Trademarks protect elements of a brand. It can be a product name, a logo, a tagline…
- Designs protect the look of a product. It’s really about the aesthetics, the appearance of the product.
- Patents protect a new way of doing something. It is often associated with inventions and new technologies.
So, you have a business idea. You may even be so far as to be choosing your business name or product names. You could be planning what your website or other promotional materials will look like.
Before you make decisions, you need to make sure you are not going to be infringing anyone else’s IP rights. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Has anyone else come up with the same invention before you? Did your research also include patent applications?
- Does your product look similar to another company’s? Have you checked registered designs?
- Is the name you want to use available? Have you searched trademark registers to confirm?
- Are you using any elements created by others? Have you got permission for that?
- Have you been working with others outside your new business? Did you discuss who owns the resulting IP and have you got that in writing?
Understand what IP you own
Consider all that you and your business partners are creating for the new business.
- If you are creating promotional materials, social media posts, code for an app or website, images or videos, training materials… then you are a copyright owner. Note: this list is not exhaustive!
- If you are putting resources into building a brand behind a particular name or logo, then you are likely to own some unregistered trademark rights.
- If you are creating products with a distinctive look, you’ll own design rights.
By the way, are all these IP rights owned by the business or by the individuals? It is up to you to decide how you want it to work in your own business, but it’s still something you should weigh up now.
And if another business outside your own has created something for you, have you agreed with them either a licence or an assignment of rights? Think about the graphic designer who designed your logo, the web designer who created your website, the photographer who staged your products, the film producer who made your promotional video… If they are not part of your business, they own (and retain) the IP rights to what they created for you – unless the contract between you specifies otherwise.
Take steps to protect your IP
Once you have checked you are not infringing anyone else’s IP and you have an understanding of what you own, it’s time to consider how best to protect your IP assets.
- Copyright is free and automatic: as soon as the work is created / written / recorded, the IP rights exist. It is up to you to take steps to protect these rights further; e.g. keeping records of what you created in case of infringement, or claiming the copyright to show others you own this work and deter them from re-using it without your permission.
- You can choose to rely on your unregistered trademark rights for the elements of your brand, but you could also obtain a registered trademark. This would give you a monopoly over using a name, logo or other qualifying mark for a specified set of products or services in the country of your choice.
- In a similar way, you could rely on design rights for your products or apply for registered designs for your most iconic ones.
- To secure the inventive way in which your invention works, you could apply for patent protection. A granted patent would give you a monopoly over using this technology in the country you applied.
There is a lot more to each of the types of IP, but not enough space to fit it all here!
Ask us for help
If you are unsure about how any point I have just mentioned applies to your business, then ask. At the Business & IP Centre we run free one-hour IP surgeries several times a week just for that purpose. In your appointment, we’ll help you check you are not infringing anyone else’s IP rights, discuss what you could protect and explain how to do it. If needed we will refer you to one of our Experts in residence such as the chartered patent attorney, the IP and corporate solicitor or the IP protection and strategy expert.