Ideas, creations and inventions are all kinds of intellectual property. The notion of Intellectual Property lets artists, inventors and entrepreneurs claim ideas as their own.
Ideas can be protected by trademarks, patents, copyright and design registration. The Intellectual Property Office is the official government body responsible for granting Intellectual Property rights in the UK.
A trademark is a name or symbol which is used to identify a product. The product might consist of goods or services, and the trademark might consist of words, images, or some combination of the two. The main purpose of a trademark is to distinguish your product from other competing products.
A trademark can be officially registered. This means that, legally, only the owner or manufacturer who registered it will be able to use it.
If a trademark is well established but is not officially registered, then there is some legal protection against anyone else using it. In practice, however, this can be quite hard to prove.
There are several reasons why it might not be possible to register a trademark. Most importantly, a trademark should be distinctive. This means that it should identify your product uniquely: for example, it should not be something that has become customary in your line of trade.
Other reasons follow from the idea that a trademark should distinguish a product, but should not be essential to it. A trademark might be three-dimensional, but if it is, then it should not be the same shape as the goods (or any part of them). It should not be functional, and should not add any intrinsic value to the goods.
A trademark should not be a straightforward description of the goods or services, their purpose, or where they come from. It should not be deceptive or misleading, and it should not be offensive, or break the law in any way.
Patents are used to protect inventions. A patent grants the owner the sole right to make, use and sell their invention for a certain amount of time. Usually, this is a period of twenty years, after which the idea is free for anyone to use.
In order to be eligible for a patent, an invention must be both new and useful. To be considered new, an invention should have some step or insight which is not obvious to someone with knowledge or experience of the relevant area. To be considered useful, the idea should be possible to make or implement in some kind of industry.
Some kinds of ideas are not eligible for patents, but might be better protected by copyright instead. For example, scientific or mathematical discoveries, theories or methods - including novel presentations of information, some computer programs, and methods of medical diagnosis or treatment - are not patentable, and neither are literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works.
Other ideas might not be suitable for patenting. For example, if you have a secret recipe for jam, you would probably want to keep it a trade secret, because the protection that a patent offers will expire after a period of twenty years.
Who should be concerned?
Artists, inventors and entrepreneurs - anyone whose business involves ideas and creative work - should pay attention to their Intellectual Property rights.
How to register a patent
Patents must be officially registered with the UK Intellectual Property Office.
It can take a long time to register a patent. In order to check that the idea is genuinely new, the IPO will check around the world to see if the idea already exists elsewhere. If the idea is not new, it will not be possible to patent it.
If a patent is granted, it generally lasts for a period of 20 years. During this time the patent holder is free to use and license the patent as they wish. Anybody who uses the idea without consent will be infringing the patent and may be liable to pay damages.
What should you do?
If you have an idea you are thinking about patenting, then it is important that you keep it secret. As the patent application process is quite technical, you may want to contact a solicitor, who will be able to help you through the whole process.
A solicitor will also be able to draft a confidentiality agreement that you can use to ensure that your idea will remain protected if you do disclose it to someone else. You might for example want a designer to produce drawings in support of your application.
How we work
Protolaw offers every client of ours the same professional, informative service. We give legal advice to people in many different situations, and we take our responsibilities seriously.
Our clients should understand clearly what is going on with their application. It's our job to guide you through the law, so we do our best to speak and write clearly and precisely. Of course, we use legal terms when necessary, but we do our best to comb out any tangled technicalities.
It is important to us that you know how your things are progressing: we have regular meetings with our clients to discuss their case in person. With Protolaw, you will have a dedicated solicitor who will take care of your case, every step of the way.
Visit our website for more information, or call us up on the telephone. We are always on hand to help and we'll be happy to talk to you in confidence about making a claim, making a patent or trademark application, or any other legal matter.