Protecting IP: patents, trademarks, registered designs & copyright

If you're already thinking about how to protect your IP...well done you, you've taken the most important step! To help you keep going, we've put together a few pointers about how best to protect your IP and things to look out for below.

The best protection isn't always legal

Whilst there are certainly legal ways to protect your IP (which we’ll come on to below), the best protection for your IP is often making sure it is kept confidential. That means: keeping it secret (literally put it in the safe!), divide it into parts so no one has access to all of it, don’t allow anyone the time or access to copy it and don’t tell any single person all of how it works.

What if secrecy isn’t an option?

If secrecy isn’t an option (e.g. when your IP is the product or service you sell) it’s important to make sure you take all the legal steps you can to protect it. This generally means having the appropriate license agreements and commercial contracts are in place before you start releasing your IP and, where possible, registering your IP.

There are also certain rules to bear in mind. For example, if you’ve had that big idea whilst you’re still working for someone else, make sure you don’t work on it whilst you’re at work or it may belong to your employer.

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At this point it's worth mentioning that lots of people think they have the next big idea and they're not sure if they should share it with anyone. In the vast majority of cases, the reason the idea hasn't succeeded yet isn't necessarily because no one has thought of it.

There's a lot more to making a business successful than just having the idea itself (raising capital, building the product, marketing it, hiring a team, etc.) and these are often the true barriers to success. It's also worth bearing in mind that you're usually going to need to discuss your idea with someone to validate and build it, and not everyone will be open to signing a non-disclosure agreement (e.g. potential investors generally don't sign NDAs).

However, if you have a one of a kind product or an idea that is so unique and revolutionary, then you'll certainly want to protect it. Especially since disclosure could invalidate any later legal protection you try to put in place.

What are your legal options for protecting your IP?

If you’re looking to protect your IP legally, some of the most common types of IP protection are:

  • Copyright – to protect books, films, songs, etc.
  • Trade marks – to protect a name, word, phrase or logo used to identify a product or entity.
  • Patents – to protect a new and inventive design for a product.
  • Registered designs – to protect the appearance of the whole or part of a product.

Each is protected differently and some are easier to protect than others. For example, whilst obtaining a patent provides a strong defence against potential infringement, the process can be costly, complex and take years. It is also important to know that disclosure prior to patenting a product can mean it is impossible to get a patent later on. As such, any disclosure prior to patenting should be considered carefully and should be covered by a non-disclosure (or confidentiality) agreement.

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Do you need a lawyer?

IP is a complex area and if you have an idea worth protecting, it is always best to take professional advice from a specialist IP lawyer right at the start. Otherwise, you may run the risk of losing your IP, which can have disastrous consequences for your business.


Our Lawyers

Tom Woodward

Simon specialises in commercial and intellectual property law, with a particular focus on IT and e-commerce. Simon’s clients come from all across the commercial spectrum, including retail, healthcare, digital marketing, technology and engineering.

Tom Woodward

Penny advises businesses at all levels from international corporations to local SMEs and start-ups on acquisitions, disposals, corporate restructuring and debt and equity financing as well as on all aspects of commercial agreements, including intellectual property licensing, supply and distribution.

Tom Woodward

Lucy has a particular expertise in the technology and manufacturing sectors. From a technology perspective, Lucy spent a number of years at Sage UK. From a manufacturing perspective, Lucy has a wealth of experience gained from supporting blue-chip clients in the rail sector.

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