This article is intended to give you a brief overview of the different areas of registered intellectual property (IP) within the UK. We highly recommend speaking to an IP solicitor regarding specific questions around intellectual property for your business. This article is not legal advice. This article may not be relevant to those seeking to protect their business outside of the UK as it does not cover IP protection outside of it.
What is intellectual property?
Intellectual Property refers to the innovations and creations made by your business- it is the legal framework that allows you to both protect the things you create and to use them in ways that can commercially benefit you and your business. However, it does not refer to ideas behind what you do- if you bake chocolate cakes, you cannot protect the idea of cake baking, but you can protect some of the knowledge of how the cake is made, your packaging, store logos etc.
There are also exceptions to IP protections which include business models, scientific theory, mathematic formulae, things that occur naturally (e.g. plant types), or things that already exist in the public domain.
There are six main types of intellectual property, 3 that are registered and 3 that are not (trade secrets, know how and copyright.) This blog will look at registered.
Trademarks are logos or words that you use for people to identify your brand. A business can legally can own multiple trademarks and can decide to sell or license them- as the value of a business’ brand increases as does that of their trademark. Trademarks must be renewed every ten years.
All registered trademarks can use ® to indicate that their logo is legally protected. Some brands who have not registered their trademarks may use ™ instead to indicate something as their trademark, although this does not afford the same legal protections this does not mean an unregistered trademark cannot be defended in the UK, but it can be more challenging.
To register a trademark in the UK, you must first check that a similar trademark is not registered already in the classification for goods or services your business wishes to use it in. You can do this via the IPO’s online search.
Registered design protects the aesthetics and overall look of a product and can cover everything from fashion designs to industrial design to graphics to aspects of urban planning.
Registered design covers the looks of a product including shape, decoration and how it is configured. It protects the design from being copied, although it is also worth noting that some protection is also available automatically in the UK under Design Right law (like with trademarks you can still protect your designs in some cases without registering although the process could be more complicated). Registered designs last 5 years and can be renewed for up to 25 years.
Like trademarks you can buy or sell registered designs, and licensing a design can be very lucrative. Like with trademarks, designs need to be registered in different territories in order to be protected, in the UK you must prove your design is innovative and to do this you must do prior art searches before registering – you can do this via databases like Design View.
Patents protection covers how a product or invention works and is made. To qualify as a patent the invention has to be an innovation- it should be a invention that is either better or different than what exists, or cheaper. It should be new and not already in use, not obvious, and it must not just be hypothetical- you must be able to make and use it.
Patents give you the right to be the sole producer on a product for 20 years and they give you protection from other producing your product within the territory you are protected.
To register a patent you must keep your invention confidential and it is safest to not share the details of it. In cases where you must, it recommended to use non-disclosure agreements (be aware these can still be broken.) If your invention enters the public domain it may result in your patent application being rejected.
You will need to do a prior art search to prove your invention is unique. This includes anything in existence, and examples can come from creative works as well as other patents. You should search within your industry for similar inventions and can also use online patent databases such as https://worldwide.espacenet.com/ which is run by the European Patent Office.
We highly recommend speaking to an IP solicitor regarding specific questions around intellectual property for your business.