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Why IP is key to your business

MOST growing businesses know that intellectual property or "IP" could be an important factor in their future success.

Bill Goodwin

Bill Goodwin

But the abstract world of IP law can seem bewildering, giving rise to more questions than answers. Here is a brief guide to the basics.

IP laws exist to reward creative and innovative people. Without such laws there would be little point in businesses investing time and money in creating and marketing new products, since they would be copied immediately.

By protecting your IP you can prevent competitors copying you, thus protecting your competitive advantage. IP is also an asset which you can sell and licence to others creating new revenue streams. A well-managed portfolio of IP can also be vital when securing investment and funding for your business.

A wide variety of things can be protected as IP. However, different types of rights exist to protect different things.

Patents protect novel inventions and processes, such as machines and medicines.

Designs protect the shape or appearance of products, such as a mobile phone case or a shoe.

Copyright protects original literary, artistic and musical works including books, newspaper articles, software, films and photographs.

Trade Marks protect product names and logos such as Coke or the Nike swoosh symbol.

Know How is secret information which is valuable to a business and can be protected by laws on confidential information. Recipes, secret formulas and manufacturing processes are often protected as know-how.

You should review your products and services to identify whether you have anything which could, or should, be protected using the rights detailed above.

To obtain the benefit of some IP rights (including patents or registered trade marks and designs) it is necessary to file applications with the intellectual property offices.

Other rights (such as copyright, unregistered design and trade mark rights) may come into being automatically, but it is important to understand what rights you have and that you can prove you own them.

IP must be obtained on a country by country basis.

If you are making applications for patents, trade marks or designs, you should seek to do so wherever you do business (e.g. sell your products). It may also be wise to register your IP in other countries for strategic reasons.

Identify and protect your intellectual property as soon as you can. If you delay, others may copy you or obtain conflicting rights preventing you from obtaining protection.

Timing can be a critical issue when it comes to securing some kinds of IP.

Patent applications must be filed before the invention concerned is published, or put into the public domain.

Registered design applications must be filed, either before you go public with the design, or within a grace period of one year thereafter.

All businesses will have some IP they should consider protecting.

A specialist intellectual property adviser is ideally placed to give you bespoke advice enabling you to identify and protect your intellectual property in the most comprehensive manner.

* This article first appeared in the Ward Hadaway Yorkshire Fastest 50 2016 supplement. To read the supplement in full, please click here.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.

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