Last Updated on 18.7.16 by Gemma Lingard
Coming up with a catchy slogan, a new logo design or even naming your company can be tricky enough without infringing on someone else who has done something similar before. You want to be unique and stand out from the crowd but this can be difficult without thinking, ‘Oh their logo is eye-catching, can we do something like that’. There is no problem with this, until you unfairly copy another design or use something that isn’t your property.
More and more UK companies are investing in protecting their intellectual property (IP) rights. Over the past two decades, the amount of money spent protecting IP has jumped from £23.8bn to £63.5bn. This shows that more individuals and companies are valuing their intangible assets and are ready to protect others from copying them.
Infringing someone’s intellectual property can be costly business indeed and could even stop your company growing before it has even started. First of all, let’s have a look at what Intellectual Property is.
What is Intellectual Property?
Under the UK Copyright Service IP refers to the creative work which can be treated as an asset or physical property. Protecting your IP means that other individuals and business cannot copy or steal such things as product names, brand names, product design, logo design and the literary work you produce, amongst much else. This also means that you can’t imitate or steal the work that other people and companies have created.
What areas are covered by IP?
Intellectual property comes in different shapes and sizes depending on what it is that you’ve created. IP can be broadly split up into 4 main categories:
- Design Rights – Design includes appearance, physical shape, configuration and decoration. As the designer/owner you can protect the appearance of the whole or part of a product, which can be registered or unregistered. A design can be subject to both copyright and design rights. Registering your design prevents others from using it for up to 25 years and may make the process of taking legal action simpler should you have a dispute.
- Copyright – Applies to original artistic work recorded in some way, such as literary or musical. Unlike other sectors of IP, copyright is an automatic international right arising on the creation of the work that allows the owner to prevent unauthorised use of the work.
- Trademarks – Can be a name, slogan, word, symbol, design or word. They are registered with an appointed government body and protects whatever you have trademarked in that country only.
- Patents – Patents are registered nationally and apply to inventions and industrial processes. Registering a patent prohibits someone else from implementing the invention without the necessary authorisation.
How do I know if I’m the owner of intellectual property?
There are a number of ways and instances in which you can own or use IP. Firstly, if you were the creator, for example of a unique logo design, then you have the rights. If you are a new business owner and have paid someone else to design your logo then you as the business owner, having paid for the design, will have the rights to the work – it’s always best to double check this when you are commissioning the work. You can also buy IP rights, for example from a previous owner, or be granted a licence to use the intellectual property from the owner.
One example where you more than likely won’t be the IP owner is if you have created something in your work whilst being employed by someone else, the rights in this instance would be with the employer. For example, this article doesn’t belong to me personally, but Gorvins Solicitors instead.
What you need to do to avoid infringement
Intellectual property rights are infringed, which is the legal term for an act that breaks a law, when a product, creation or invention protected by IP laws are exploited, copied or used without having the authorisation or permission from the owner of the rights. As a business owner this will be integral to you as you could be on the receiving end of a dispute without taking these seriously.
Below are a few tips to avoid infringement:
- Almost everything from the internet is copyrighted, so don’t just take anything you want from the seemingly endless supply of work. It’s no defence to say “it didn’t say it was copyrighted on the website” or “I just found it.”
- Don’t assume something is in the ‘public domain’ just because it is on the internet. This is a very common misconception. Something will go into the public domain only once the copyright expires, usually years after the author’s death.
- Be creative about your work. Stay away from screenshots of images or videos that become incorporated into your design.