There is a certain mystique about the phrase ‘Intellectual Property’; many businesses think it's not for them…they could not be further from the truth! 

This article is the first of a series planned to introduce businesses of all types to the concept of Intellectual Property (IP) and why it’s important.

So, what is IP? According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), ‘IP refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs and symbols, names and images used in commerce’. 

IP is protected in law to enable its creators to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create. It aims to protect the environment of creativity and innovation.

There are six types of protectable IP, summarised below. Each will be further detailed in future articles.

1.    Copyright: This legally protects the rights of creators of literary and artistic works from copying and plagiarism. Such works include books, articles, artworks, databases, advertisements, software, maps and technical drawings. Copyright is usually identified with the name of the creator, associated with the symbol ©.

2.    Patents: A patent is based upon the creation of an ‘inventive step’. If approved, the originator of the patent (the inventor) has the exclusive right to protect the invention. The patent owner can decide how or whether the invention can be used by others and on what terms. The process of preparation and publication of a patent is complex and requires the inventor to make technical information about the invention publicly available. 

3.    Trademarks: A trademark is a visible sign that distinguishes the goods and services of an enterprise from others that may have a similar function. The trademark is required to be registered and is unique. From a business viewpoint, a trademark is essentially the precursor of branding. A trademarked product or service is associated with the symbol ™.

4.    Industrial Design: The aesthetic or ornamental aspect of an article, associated with a specific contour or shape can be protected. This may be two-dimensional or 3-dimensional and can be linked with defined patterns and colours. Registered designs are associated with the symbol ®.

5.    Geographical indicators: This is a fraught area for many since it relates a product to a specific geographical location. In law, the attributes of the product have to be exclusively and demonstrably associated with a place of origin.   BUT………

  • Does a Cornish pasty have to come from Cornwall; Does Stilton cheese come from Stilton (a village in Cambridgeshire)?

6.    Trade Secrets: Confidential information, owned by a company is considered to be IP. This includes such items as customer lists, manufacturing processes and other information which, if passed in an unauthorized manner to a competitor, could cause commercial disadvantage. Such information is usually protected from unauthorized dispersal by the enactment of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA). These can be applied to employees of the company or any external bodies to whom the information may have been disclosed on a confidential basis.

There is a final area of IP that is often neglected and is related to Trade Secrets: this is ‘Knowhow’. There may be certain parts of a process that confer a uniqueness to the end product that are protected on a ‘need to know’ basis. The classic example of this is the so-called ‘magic ingredient’ in Coca Cola.

In the UK, IP is administered by:

The Intellectual Property Office
‘Concept House’, Cardiff Road, Newport, S. Wales NP10 8QQ.
Tel: 0300  300 2000

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