Protecting your intellectual property can be a minefield, trying to understand the difference between copyright or a trademark, let alone the cover they provide can be a challenge. We are going to try and make it simple for you.
Before we start, a disclaimer that we are not qualified in law, we advise you seek professional legal advice if needed, we are also based in the UK so laws outside of the country may vary.
What is Intellectual Property?
Intellectual property refers to any creation of the mind. This could be designs, logos, symbols, inventions, processes, names, music, images and so on. How you protect your intellectual property can vary but can be very important. We are going to take a look at the basics of copyright, trademark and patents.
Copyright refers to the rights people have over their literary and artistic work. It is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as 'the exclusive and assignable legal right, given to the originator for a fixed number of years'. This means that you as long as a degree of independent effort was required during the creation, you can be considered eligible to own the copyright.
What can I copyright?
You can own the copyright for:
Sketches / drawings
You cannot own the copyright for:
Ways of doing things.
How long does copyright last?
In original literary, dramatic, artistic, or musical work, copyright usually lasts 70 years after the creators' death.
In typographical arrangements of published editions, it lasts 25 years from the end of the calendar year the edition was first published.
Who owns the copyright?
Copyright belongs to the creator unless it has been assigned to an employer or commissioner. when working with design agencies, always make sure you agree in writing who owns the copyright to avoid disappointment later. If you do not have it in writing that you own it, the rights default to them (the designer).
How much does copyrighting cost?
Nothing, copyright is free. You do, however, have to be able to prove you own the rights to the design with timelines, contracts and other evidence should someone infringe on your copyright.
Trademarks are a sign (meaning a word, symbol, design or phrase) that distinguishes and identifies a specific source of goods from one party to another. Essentially, an identifiable representation of one company to another.
Trademarks are classified by sectors. Each class has multiple sub-classes and during the application, you can select all relevant classes to your company and its services. Once granted, you are then only protected for the services you have listed. You can apply for additional classes/ services at a later date.
Symbol: ®️ is a government registered trademark, ™️ is an unregistered trademark.
What can I trademark?
How long does a trademark last?
Once granted, you can renew your trademark every 10 years.
Who owns the trademark?
Whoever applies and is granted the trademark. You can transfer trademarks to others, but it belongs to the person documented on the government system. Bear in mind, trademarks apply geographically, meaning you are not protected outside of your country. Rules and laws vary per country also.
How much does trademarking cost?
At the time of writing this (2021) it costs £170 for the initial application and £50 per each additional class.
A patent is an exclusive right to an invention. Patent owners can decide who can use their patent but also release some documents explaining their method, which is made available to the public. A patent stops others from being able to make, use or sell anything within the granted patent (for example heated windscreens on cars were originally patented by Ford and they could prevent any other brand from using their technology).
What can I patent?
Something that can be made or used
To patent something, it must be completely new. It cannot be a modification to an existing item or process.
You cannot patent:
literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works
a way of doing business, playing a game or thinking
a method of medical treatment or diagnosis
a discovery, scientific theory or mathematical method
the way information is presented
some computer programs or mobile apps
‘essentially biological’ processes like crossing-breeding plants, and plant or animal varieties (Gov.uk)
How long does a patent last?
Patent terms typically last 20 years from the filing date. Fees can be paid to extend a patent. Again, these are enforced geographically, you would need to own the patent in the country to prevent someone else from using it. They are also subject to national law.
Who owns the patent?
You will unless you transfer it. This is a particularly length process and can even take up to 5 years before your patent is approved. Applicants undergo rigorous testing and are only enforceable once it has been granted, not during the testing phase.
How much does a patent cost?
Patents can cost up to £4000 with the involvement of a patent attorney.
Intellectual property is very important, especially in the design industry. There is nothing more frustrating than someone else profiting from your work and it is becoming a growing problem. Business owners regardless of their industry should always have a basic understanding of intellectual property and what constitutes infringement as the results could be catastrophic for them. Are you confident you understand the basics of intellectual property and when it is infringement?
Disclaimer: Information is correct at the time of writing. Last update 2021. Please see https://www.gov.uk/browse/business/intellectual-property for more details. Always seek legal advice from a qualified lawyer.