What does the Intellectual Property Act protect?
Intellectual property is a term which can refer to a wide range of items. These include:
- Inventions (e.g. a new type of vacuum cleaner)
- The design and look of your product
- Brand names
- Shape of goods
- Sounds or colours
- Advertising slogans
- Newspaper and magazine articles
The common theme here is that all these items have been created by an individual (or individuals).
Intellectual property can be owned solely by one person, by a group of people, or by an organisation. Its ownership (and the rights this brings) can be sold or transferred between people and organisations.
Why is intellectual property important?
Although intellectual property is an intangible concept, it is an extremely important one.
Items like new products, trusted brand names and successful slogans can be worth a considerable amount of money to an organisation – as can the rights to bestselling novels, blockbuster films and much-loved pop songs.
Intellectual property law UK protects the creator and/or owner of a particular item and the rights this confers. Legislation, including the Trade Marks Act 1994 which deal with trade marks and the Registered Designs Act which addresses protection for the design sector, these serve as a defence against anyone violating the intellectual property of others for their own benefit.
It is vital, therefore, that anyone applying for a trade mark ensures that the item they are seeking to protect is an original concept as the consequences for breaking international property law can be severe.
This article will look at the issues surrounding intellectual property and explain how Trademark Eagle can play a vital role in helping you to protect your own creative enterprise while respecting the rights of others.
Why is it important to combat intellectual property theft?
While intellectual property theft in the form of fake designer clothes being sold at a market stall or the illegal streaming of a Hollywood movie may lack the distressing visual imagery of a ransacked home or warehouse, the impact can be every bit as devastating.
The fact that crime prevention agencies like the police and central and local government devote considerable resources to tackling intellectual property theft is an indication of the serious problems which it can cause for individuals, organisations and the economy as a whole.
Impact on the rightful owners
For many businesses, intellectual property makes up an important part of their overall value and one which may have taken considerable time, effort and resources to create. Companies operating in sectors such as technology, life science, media and IT can be particularly affected by intellectual property theft as their core activities revolve around innovation. Likewise, small and medium-sized enterprises often rely on intellectual property such as trade marks, branding and design to a great extent in order to differentiate themselves from rivals in what is often an extremely competitive market.
Impact on the wider economy
A dynamic economy is heavily dependent on innovation across a range of sectors in order to generate economic growth. Intellectual property theft can deprive companies of the financial resources, cause actual damage to the goodwill and reputation of companies and the incentive to carry out such enterprise.
Impact on society and the environment
Much intellectual property can be seen as benefiting society and the world we live in whether it be new pharmaceutical products or environment-friendly cars. Once again, companies may be reluctant to invest considerable time and money into the necessary research and development if they do not receive just rewards.
Links with organised crime
An individual buying a fake version of a designer pair of trainers at a knock-down price may believe they are participating in a so-called ‘victimless crime’. In addition to helping to commit intellectual property theft against the rightful owner of the brand, however, they may be aiding organised crime groups who use such activity as a way of laundering money from crimes like drug dealing, as well as to fund new illicit activity.
What is the intellectual property law in the UK?
The moment something is released into the public domain (a new mobile phone or pop song, for example) there is the possibility that someone may steal the intellectual property that underpins it.
It important, therefore, that anyone running a business understands both their own rights and the rights of others.
The provisions of Intellectual property law in the UK seeks to protect the interests of the rightful owners in a number of ways:
What can be registered as a trademark?
Under intellectual property law, logos, colours, words and sounds can be registered as a trade mark – as can any combination of them.
What are the benefits of having a trade mark?
Intellectual property law UK provides the holders of trade marks with the right to:
- Market their goods and services under the trade mark in the knowledge they have the right to do so
- Take legal action against anyone who uses your brand without permission
- License and sell your brand
- Use the ® symbol next to your brand to highlight your ownership of it and act as a deterrent to others
The basic government cost of registering a trade mark is £170 although the price may be higher depending on the number of items to be protected.
There are certain things that cannot be trademarked – for example, claims that are offensive; too generic; misleading; too similar to an existing trade mark of another business; or incorporate symbols that you do not have the right to use (e.g. a national flag).
The application process usually takes around three to four months. If granted, the trade mark stays in force for ten years – after which it must be renewed to remain effective.
Registering the design of your product can include the shape; the configuration of different aspects of the design; the decoration/colour; and the pattern. These can be registered as trade marks as well as Registered Design Rights, which are a separate right.
Taking out such a registration can be extremely helpful in the case of a dispute, enabling you to prove your ownership of the design and when you created it. Designs as examples are made up of, the lines, contours, shape, texture of the product or its ornamentation.
As with trade marks, there are some designs that cannot be registered, such as things that are solely dictated by the function of product, or are contrary to the accepted principles of morality.
The registration process costs £50 for one design or £150 for up to 50 designs in government fees.
Protection resulting from the registration of a design lasts for five years but can be repeatedly renewed up to a maximum of 25 years.
Copyright differs from trade marks, designs and patents in that it is automatically generated upon creation of “the work” and protection is afforded without the need to register it.
It protects works created including:
- Written, dramatic, musical and artistic work (copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the author)
- Films (copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the screenplay author, composer and director)
- Layout of written, dramatic and musical work (copyright lasts for 25 years from the date of first publication)
- Recordings of sound and music (copyright lasts for 50 years from the date of first publication)
Copyright provides vital protection over your work in that it prevents others from copying, distributing, lending, renting, performing or adapting your work or uploading it to the internet.
A patent provides legal protection should another individual or company produce or sell your invention without permission.
Unlike copyright, there is no automatic protection for your invention – you must apply for the patent. Should your application be successful the patent will initially remain effective for five years. After this period, you can keep on applying to have the patent renewed every year up to a maximum of 20 years.
Under UK law there are strict criteria that determine whether an invention can be patented. To be eligible, it must:
- Be original – such a product must not have existed previously anywhere in the world or have been described in any publication
- Be a genuine invention – not merely a change or modification to something that already exists
- Be either a physical product, a technical process or method of achieving a specific objective
Things which cannot be patented include:
- Books and music (copyright should provide an alternative protection in these cases)
- Business strategies
- A scientific discovery
- ‘Non-technical’ software
In many cases, the distinction may appear a fine one. For example, a method of medical treatment will not be eligible for a patent while a specific drug that is used may be.
Which Act of Parliament protects intellectual property?
Intellectual property law UK comes in the form of a range of legislation including Trade Mark Act 1994; Copyright, Designs and Patent 1988; Registered Designs Act 1949; Video Recordings Act 2010; Fraud Act 2006 and Intellectual Property Act 2014.
What does the Intellectual Property Act do?
The Intellectual Property Act 2014 built on previous legislation to provide strengthened protection for those who create something innovative. In doing so it aims to facilitate an environment where individuals and organisations are incentivised to be innovative – something which will produce benefits not just for those concerned but for the economy and society more generally.
One of the main purposes of the Act was to protect the interests of small and medium-sized businesses (who may struggle to protect their intellectual property due to a lack of resources).
The main ways in which the Act strengthened intellectual property protection were as follows:
- Anyone who copies a registered design (or who produces one that is only immaterially different) is committing a criminal offence under the Act
- A designer commissioned by a company to produce a design will now have ownership of the design unless otherwise agreed
- An extension of the IPO Opinion Service (originally launched in 2005). In disputes over alleged patent infringement, the service provides an opinion on whether an infringement has taken place. Although non-binding, this can help to encourage both parties to settle the case without the need for a full legal hearing. In addition to extending the work of the IPO Opinion Service with regard to patents, the Act also set up a similar service for designs.
What happens if you break the law on intellectual property?
Under UK criminal law there are severe potential penalties in terms of hefty fines and periods of imprisonment for anyone found guilty of violating intellectual property rights.
Such offences can also lead to civil cases and result in those committing the infringements being required to pay substantial sums in damages as well as being liable for legal costs and suffering reputational damage.
The Intellectual Property Act 2014 did, however, introduce a ‘prior rights’ defence for anyone who started to use a design only to discover that another company had registered it before them. The law may now allow them to continue using the design in the way they had been doing prior to it being registered by the other party – but not to expand its use.
How can Trademark Eagle help me over intellectual property rights?
We have seen above the severe legal, financial and reputational damage that can result from violating someone else’s intellectual property.
On a practical level it is also important to consider the time and money which will have been wasted in developing a new product, trade mark, brand, and so on if you are found to have violated someone else’s intellectual property rights.
It is imperative, therefore, to ensure that – when it comes to trade marks, designs, copyright and patents – you have effective safeguards in place.
This is where Trademark Eagle comes in, offering you a quality and affordable service to help you successfully negotiate the relevant intellectual property legislation – whether it be in the UK, EU or further afield.
Our highly effective online search system provides an excellent starting point to check whether your trade mark is original. From there our expert team of professionals (including qualified trade mark attorneys and solicitors) will be happy to guide you through the registration process – displaying at all times the outstanding levels of customer service for which we are known.
Consultations are available through both live chat and email and we operate with the highest levels of confidentiality and integrity.
For more information on how we can help you with your trade mark registration please get in touch:
Call: 01223 208 624
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