Our next instalment in our blog series on taking your product to market, focuses on protecting your idea. You’ve already invested time, energy and money in bringing your concept to life, so don’t forget to make sure you try and protect yourself from copycats; whilst we understand that your vision is unique to you, someone else may well have a similar concept in mind. Give yourself the best chance of commercial success and choose the most suitable forms of legal protection for your idea and product. This article will help you to understand the different types of intellectual property (IP) protection, how they differ and how to go about it.
Protecting your work gives you a firm grounding in the event that you find yourself needing to take legal action against anyone imitating your creation. Protecting IP can take time and it is critical to keep your idea confidential until you have filed for suitable protection, else your rights might be invalidated – so if you are planning to take your product to market, it’s worth getting this process started sooner rather than later. James Cornford, Senior Associate at Forresters, specialists In Intellectual Property (IP), echoes: “Navigating the complex world of IP can be challenging, but it’s critical to seek advice early on – before sharing an idea with third parties – to protect your interests.” If you must share your concept with another party before filing for suitable protection, then it’s essential that you use an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement). You can find some examples of NDAs at gov.uk.
It’s likely that you will want to protect multiple aspects of your work. There are a number of different areas you should consider to make sure your offering is fully protected. Your specific requirements will differ depending on what your product actually is.
Automatic (Unregistered) IP Protection
Some (limited) IP rights arise automatically and do not require registration. These include copyright and unregistered design right.
Copyright automatically applies to writing and literary works, art, photography, films, TV, music, web content and sound recordings, amongst others. Copyright protects you against others copying your work, distributing your work for profit or gratis, and adapting, performing or sharing your work online. If you wish, you may apply the © symbol, your name and date to your works, although this is not essential, as your work is covered automatically either way.
Unregistered design right protects the shape and configuration of products, and can be used to stop others copying your design. Design right also arises automatically, although you’ll need proof of when you created a design if you want to claim design right. It may be wise to register your design (see below), which establishes a firm date and provides longer-lasting protection.
Applying for Registered IP Protection
There are three types of IP protection that you may pro-actively apply for: trade marks, registered designs and patents. These generally offer broader, more robust protection than unregistered rights and so are often easier to enforce. Patent protection can also enable companies to apply a lower rate of Corporation Tax to profits earned from their patented inventions under the UK Government Patent Box scheme.
Trade marks protect branding – you can register words, logos, graphics and more to protect your brand.
Registered designs protect the appearance of products, regardless of how they work.
Patents protect how something works, regardless of how it looks.
Understanding which of these you need will depend on the type of product you are taking to market- a product may be linked to several IP rights, e.g. you could potentially:
- register your brand name and logo as a trade mark;
- protect your product’s unique shape as a registered design; and
- patent a novel working part of your product.
We hope this feature has given you a good understanding as to how to go about protecting your product. If you would like legal advice on protecting your IP then we recommend finding a legal team who are experts in IP and can deliver clear, sensible and practical advice. Forresters are a great example of such a team – Senior Associate James says: “We love working directly with designers and inventors as they have such passion for what they do – we can really get to the ‘heart’ of an innovation and explore how best to protect it!”
If you’ve jumped ahead in the series with this topic, don’t forget to click back and take a look at previous articles. We’ve covered every aspect of your product design journey, from sourcing a product design consultancy, to budgeting, briefing and beyond.
If you found this blog helpful, we’d love you to share it amongst your network. Meanwhile, for any questions which might have gone unanswered, our team of product design professionals are here to help. We invite you to drop us a line here or give us a call on 01962 454474.