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Protecting Your Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) can be highly valuable for your business, and it is important you put in place adequate IP protection to be able defend it against infringements and to develop it. From copyright to patents, trade marks and licensing, there are various ways to make sure you keep control of your intellectual property and plan for its development.

At Thorntons, our specialist team can help you protect your IP assets and make the most of their revenue potential.

IP protection issues

Depending on your business and product, there are different IP protection options and issues to consider.

Design rights are a type of intellectual property which can be used to protect the appearance of the whole or part of an article. They protect the way a product looks, rather than the idea behind it or its inner workings.

Depending on the nature of your design, you may be able to obtain registered protection for it. Registered design rights can provide you with a monopoly right over that design in a specified geographical area for 25 years.

A design can range from a three-dimensional shape to a pattern intended for clothing, for example many tartan designs are protected by registration. And having your design protected by a registered right means that you can stop anyone else from creating a design similar to yours in the geographical area where you have the design registered.

Alternatively, you can rely upon an unregistered design right in the UK, which provides protection for 10 years from the first marketing of a product. This arises automatically when the product is created. Unregistered designs do have some protection, but proving infringement can be more difficult.

You can license your design right, gaining revenue by allowing third parties to use your design, or you can capitalise on the fact that you are the only company able to use that design in the market. Thorntons’ specialist IP team can help you register your design rights and make the most of rights’ opportunities.

Know-how, also known as trade secrets, is an intellectual property (IP) right which is often overlooked. It can make up a company’s most valuable asset, so know-how should be vehemently protected.

Your business’s important or valuable ideas cannot be protected in the same way as another form of IP, but you may be able to protect it as confidential information. This is useful where your business has sensitive information which has value in being protected – for example operational strategy, recipes, or other trade secrets.

We can assist by putting in place confidentiality contracts and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) as well as advice on practical steps you can take to protect these valuable assets.

A registered trade mark gives you, as the trade mark owner, a monopoly right over the use of a particular symbol in specific classes of goods and services. The aim is to make sure your products are distinguishable from others in the marketplace.

Trade marks can consist of a range of different types of distinctive symbol – word, logo, packaging, shapes, colours, sounds, smells and slogans. Trade mark registration can be made in almost every jurisdiction in the world. We can work with you to identify the key marketplaces for your business for trade mark registration and can support you through every aspect of trade mark search, registration, protection and management.

Unlike other types of intellectual property rights, copyright is not capable of registration. Rather, copyright automatically exists upon creation of a work – which could be artistic, musical, dramatic or literary.

Copyright will last for 70 years after the death of the author, and in the case of sound recordings and broadcasts copyright will exist for 50 years from the date of publication. Copyright protects the form of an idea – to learn how to protect ideas themselves see our section on Know-how above.

We can provide advice on copyright law, how to take steps to protect copyright, ownership of copyright and licensing or transferring copyright to third parties. We cover the specific IP issues affecting the media sector, including copyright, on our Music, Media and Creative Industries page.

A patent is a form of protection of inventions and processes. A patent typically lasts for 20 years and is designed to stop competitors from copying new, innovative technologies. They can be useful to protect inventions which are costly to develop, particularly where companies have invested considerable time and money into research and development.

If registered, a patent gives you a monopoly right to use the process and prevents others from using the patented technology without a licence.

We have links to a network of patent specialists and we can put you in touch with the best adviser for your invention, as there is a high level of technical expertise required in patent applications and material differences between commercial sectors.

Licensing of intellectual property (IP) occurs when the owner wishes to give a third party certain rights to use the IP. We can provide advice and assistance with putting in place licensing agreements governing the terms on which the IP is to be licensed, to ensure that you, as the owner, keep all necessary control.

We can draft agreements covering the type of licence to be granted, what rights the licensee is to get, for how long, in what territories, and if a fee or other type of royalty is payable.

Once you have identified all intellectual property (IP) used in your business and taken steps to protect it, you may wish to give other companies the rights to use all the IP relating to a particular process or technology. Transfer licences (or assignations) are a useful tool to give that other company all necessary rights it needs to enable it to use the technology and produce a finished product. Our specialist team can advise you on the licences needed for your business circumstances and draw up the necessary documentation.

How can Thorntons help?

Our Intellectual Property team can advise you on identifying and safeguarding your valuable IP assets, whether you are setting up your business, developing your brand or buying or selling a company. We can advise you on all the relevant options for your business, including registering trade marks and rights, patents and confidentiality contracts, and take you through the process.

With specialist sector knowledge and experience, we can help you make the most of opportunities to develop and commercialise your IP, including licensing and rights transfer, and be on hand to act on any rights infringement or claims.

Call the Thorntons Business Law team on 03330 430350 to find out more about how we can help you protect your intellectual property, or complete our enquiry form and we will contact you.