Welcome to your Guide to Intellectual Property. In this guide you will find information on patents, trade marks, design, copyright and enforcement of your legal rights.
Although the subject matter can sometimes be complex and involved, our aim has been to write this guide in plain English for ease of understanding.
Intellectual Property is a broad term describing the fruits of mental creativity. Some of these can be protected by one or more intellectual property rights, or IPRs which include patents, trade marks ,design and copyright. the form of protection available depends upon the type of right involved and thins is summarized in the receipting section of this guide.
Some of these rights arise automatically whereas others can only be granted by official bodies. Even where rights arise automatically to be aware of what protection you get and when it might be useful.
IPRs can be one of a business's most valuable assets, although this is often not fully appreciated until too late. It is hoped that by reading this guide you will have a better appreciation of how these asset can be protected and made to work for you.
The information in this guide is necessary of a general nature and is given by way of guidance only .Specific legal advice should be sought on any particular matter. Neither the producers nor distributors of this guide can accept any responsibility whatsoever for any action taken or not taken on the basis of the information contained herein.
What is Trade Mark ?
A trade mark is a sign that distinguishes the goods or services of one trader from those of another. It is an essential element in creating and developing a brand.
Usually trade marks are words, numerals, graphic designs, or a combination of any of these, however, any sign capable of graphical representation can function as a trade mark. Thus, the shape of goods, their packaging, colours and musical sounds can also be trade mark.
Designs can protect the fruits of cutting-edge product design, but are also very useful for more everyday things. Both registered and unregistered rights exist. For innovations with an important visual element they can be a very cost-effective way of enjoying protection.
These can be used to protect a wide variety of products and also more abstract images such as computer icons. A design may be registered for part of a product even if the product itself is not new.
Registered Designs primarily protect the visual appearance of a product. They cannot be used to stop another company from using the idea behind a product, if the resulting appearance is different.
A registered Design can last up to 15 years if the renewal fees are paid.
The owner of a Registered Design can prevent the same design being used by others, even if the design was arrived at independently. In other words, registration gives a monopoly right.
What Is Copyright ?
Copyright is a familiar word, but its function is not always precisely understood. It is essentially the right to prevent others from copying an original work you produced.
What Can It Protect ?
There are many types of words that are protected. Such as documents, pictures, photography, music, sounds and computer software. The requirements to be original simply means that it is generated afresh rather than copied from elsewhere.
Copyright does not protect more ideas; only particular expression of ideas are protected. For example, If you write a business plan you can stop others taking and reusing the text and figures -these are the expression of the plan. However you can't prevent other companies operating according to a similar plan - that is the idea behind the plan. Technical ideas can sometimes be protected by a patent.
Copyright is only infringed if the work is actually copied. If what to be a copy was actually produced independently, there is no infringement. Courts will however take into account the degree of similarity and access to the original in deciding whether actual copying is likely to have taken place.
In the vast majority of cases the existence of intellectual property is a powerful deterrent to others who might otherwise have copied invention, brand, design etc. However inevitably cases arise where a company finds that its rights are being infringed-either deliberately or inadvertently.
My rights are being infringed - what can i Do ?
Ultimately, intellectual property rights can be enforced through the courts. However this should be considered a last resort as it can be costly and time-consuming. It is usually far better to reach an amicable resolution.
You should seek the advice of a qualified patent Attorney or trade Mark Attorney at an early stage - before approaching the alleged infringer. He or she will be able to advise you not only on how strong a case you might have but also on how best to make an approach. This is important as there are some legal sanctions against making threats in the wrong way.
I could never afford to go to court.
As mentioned previously, the majority of disputes do not end up in court, it is usually in the interests of both parties to reach a settlement. However, there have been several changes in recent years aimed at improving access to justice for IPR holders. For instance there are streamlined procedures that can be used in simple cases which tend to a make litigation much cheaper and quicker.
Help I've received a warning letter ?
This is not necessarily reason to panic, but it should be taken seriously. Getting a patent or trade Mark Attorney involved as soon as possible will allow you to understand the likely implications ; and he or she will be able to advise you as to how best to respond and what happened next.