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BlogWhat assets count as intellectual property and how can businesses protect them?

What assets count as intellectual property and how can businesses protect them?

Most businesses are aware of the concept of intellectual property (IP), but many fail to recognise which assets they can protect, or to take a comprehensive approach to preventing infringement. This is despite the fact that IP protection is vital for businesses – it helps them safeguard their creations, ensuring that they can reap the benefits of their hard work and build a reputation in their industry.

Protecting intellectual property is important for several reasons. Firstly, it provides businesses with a competitive advantage, allowing them to differentiate themselves from their competitors and establish a unique brand identity. Secondly, IP protection promotes innovation by incentivising individuals and companies to invest time and resources into research and development, knowing that they will be able to commercialise their assets later.

By recognising the value of IP, businesses can capitalise on the value of their brand assets while securing and protecting them. Trade marks, patents and copyright protection provide organisations with a competitive advantage, allowing them to differentiate themselves from their competitors and establish a unique brand identity.

Here, the expert intellectual property lawyers at JMW Solicitors explain the three most common types of IP protection, the types of assets to which they apply, and what businesses need to do to fully benefit from this legal safeguard.

Trade marks

Many business assets are eligible for trade mark protection, including most brand elements. These assets help to build recognition, trust and customer loyalty, and as such, there is a temptation for competitors to imitate your branding in order to mislead consumers. As such, it is vital to secure trade marks for all of your most valuable business assets.

Trademarks can protect a variety of assets, including:

  • Company names
  • Product names
  • Logos
  • Slogans or taglines
  • Product designs and packaging designs
  • Musical stings, jingles and sound effects

To protect your brand assets using trade marks, you must register them. In order for business assets to be eligible for trade mark protection, they must be unique and have a distinct character. This means that you cannot register assets that are already owned by someone else in the same trade mark category (and in fact, you may be committing infringement by using these assets to trade) and you cannot secure trade marks for assets that are generic or commonplace.

You should work with an expert intellectual property solicitor to identify valuable assets and register them for protection in order to enjoy the best chances of success with your registration. It is often best to do this early in the process – in fact, you should start at this stage when designing brand elements or naming products. By instructing a solicitor for searching and clearing services, you can ensure that your new assets do not infringe upon any existing registrations, and work quickly to secure them so that you enjoy full legal protection as you build your brand and reputation.

Patents

Patents are a type of legal protection granted to inventors that give them exclusive rights to their creations for a certain period of time. Patents provide the inventor or owner of the invention with a legal right that prevents others from making, using, or selling their invention without permission, or developing similar products that rely on the same design.

One of the aims of patents is to incentivise innovation and the development of new products, and if your business works in this space, it is vital that you act to protect your inventions. A patent lasts for five years in the UK, at which point you can renew it each year for a maximum of 20 years, during which you have exclusive IP rights to the invention.

This exclusivity period provides you with a competitive advantage, enabling you to profit from your invention without fear of competition. To benefit from legal protection for an invention, you must apply for a patent; as with a trade mark, protection does not apply automatically. A patent application needs to explain how the invention works, with technical specifications and information about its intended purpose, meaning that you cannot apply for a patent for a hypothetical idea. However, if your innovation is an improvement on an existing invention, it may still qualify for patent protection. Discuss this with a solicitor and secure their help in making the application for the best chance at registering successfully.

Copyright

Copyright grants creators of original works exclusive control over how their work is used, reproduced, and distributed. It protects literary, artistic, musical, and dramatic works, as well as software, films, and broadcasts.

Most businesses that produce media as a function of their operations are well-versed in the limits and protections conferred by copyright. However, these protections apply far beyond books, videos, music and other works of artistic expression. Businesses that do not produce media products may not be aware of the vital importance of copyright, nor how it could benefit them.

For example, any text that is produced for and published on your business website is protected by copyright, including product descriptions, blog posts and other pieces of content. If a competitor uses these without permission (or if you take product descriptions from a competitor’s website), this is considered copyright infringement and can come with legal penalties.

Original business databases also qualify for copyright protection, so it is important to understand how your business can use this to secure customer details and other types of proprietary information.

Protecting your assets

Once a business has registered its assets, the most important way it can protect them is to actively monitor for infringement on an ongoing basis. Pay attention to the moves your competitors make within your industry, as there are many different types of infringement you may face. For example, if competitors introduce a product with a similar name or design to yours, this may infringe on your trade marks. If they use descriptions of your products as their own, this may be a violation of copyright, and if they copy an invention for which you own a patent, you may be in a position to take action against them.

In any such cases, you should consult an expert intellectual property solicitor who can advise you according to the specifics of your circumstances. Do not take action yourself – while it can be tempting to respond when you catch a competitor in an act of infringement, it is important that your communications are handled by a legal professional to ensure the best possible outcome.

An IP expert may also be able to help you by providing monitoring services. This means that they will assess new trade mark registrations and alert you in cases where an application appears to infringe on assets that you own, allowing you to take action and secure your IP. In this way, you will be able to exploit its maximum value, commercialise your products and build trust with your customers.

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