How Can You Protect Your Intellectual Property?

Guest PostIP GraphicAre you designing a new product? Have you written a book or produced a musical album? Without protection, your intellectual property could be used by others and exploited for commercial gain. The experts at Vannin Capital spoke to us recently to share the following advice;

In the UK, intellectual property – whether it’s the plans for a new technology, a film script or a computer game – is protected against unauthorised use, modification or theft by trademarks, design rights, patents and copyright.

While these four categories of intellectual property protection may seem similar to each other, they each serve a different purpose. Copyright protects creative works like music, literature or visual art from piracy and imitation.

Patents, on the other hand, protect new technologies and inventions from copycats to protect their original inventors. Images and phrases that represent brands can be  protected through trademarks, while unique designs are protected by design rights.

If you understand the differences between these categories and forms of protection, you may have noticed a question: What happens to intellectual property that’s both creative and technological, or a unique design that’s also a trademark?

Not all ideas and inventions fall into multiple categories, but some do. Whether you wish to protect a unique creative work or a new technology, the first step towards a form of intellectual property protection should be a conversation with a lawyer.

The most popular form of intellectual property protection is copyright. This form of protection covers creative works like visual art, literature and music. Although you may have heard that copyright needs to be ‘registered’, most art gains copyright as soon as it’s created and identified as the unique work of the original artist.

In order for an artist to identify themselves as the creator of their work – whether it’s a novel or a painting – they need to visually identify it using their name and its creation date. In the UK, this provides 70 years of protection against unauthorised use or imitation for the original artist or rights holder.

When the period of copyright protection ends, works enter the public domain. You may have seen famous compositions or films on public domain websites. For music, it’s often just the score that enters the public domain – new performances of a piece of classical music, for example, are still protected by copyright.

Inventions and designs are protected against unauthorized use or imitation through a different process. Inventions, for example, are protected by patents. In order for an invention to be protected by a patent, it needs to be completely original and able to be created and implemented in a viable form.

This means that modifications of an existing technology can’t be protected using a patent. Likewise, patents are only issues for usable technologies. A mathematical formula, for example, can’t be patented because it’s a concept that can be used but not created.

Not all inventions are physical. Numerous patents have been awarded for unique ideas for software or computer security, neither of which are physical objects. For any invention to be patented, it needs to be able to be created and used by people and/or machines.

Visual identifiers like the Nike logo or Mickey Mouse graphic aren’t protected by copyright, but by trademark law. Any visual design that’s used to identify a brand, product or business is protected from imitation or unauthorised use a trademark.

Finally, designs for specific products such as the form factor of a device generally aren’t able to be patented. Visual designs and schematics are protected by design rights, which allow designers to control the use of their creative designs.

The average consumer product may be protected by several forms of intellectual property protection. An iPhone, for example, may be protected by all four: it uses patented technology, contains copyrighted software, uses a protected design and comes in packaging adorned with trademarked graphics.

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