Your business idea is often the best thing you have. Here’s how to protect your intellectual property.
Intellectual property (IP) rights are a crucial part of business planning, as they are the only form of protection business owners have for product invention and innovation. Simply put, they are the legal tools that protect your investment in product innovation, and stop others from exploiting that without your permission.
Business owners must protect their own IP, and ensure they don’t infringe on the IP of others. To do this, a plan must be put in place. There are three main areas of a business that can, and should, be protected.
Brand name and logo
The only way you can fully protect your brand name and logo is by registering them as registered trademarks. Just because you have registered a business name with the Companies Registration Office (CRO), for example, doesn’t mean that it can’t be duplicated by someone else.
A trademark is any distinctive sign that can distinguish the goods or services of one trader from those of another and which can be represented graphically, such as Coca-Cola. Trademark registration is similar to registration of title in property. Once it is registered, it cannot be used by anyone else for similar goods and services without the permission of the trademark holder. The initial application fee is modest, and it generally takes around six months to become registered.
It is important to remember that Irish registration does not protect the trademark abroad. If your business wants to protect its trademark in other EU countries, you can apply for a Community Trademark.
Before registering a trademark, it is important to:
- Ensure no one else has trademarked your chosen brand name or identity.
- Ensure your trademark doesn’t closely resemble another, or that there isn’t an application pending for a similar trademark.
See the section on trademarks on the Patents Office website for more information.
A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention that is a process or product that provides a new way of doing something, or offers a new solution to a problem. It confers upon its holder for a limited period the right to exclude others from exploiting the patented invention except with the consent of the patentee.
Patents can be considered to protect the way something works. Remember that a non-patented invention that falls into the public domain is free for all to use, so completing the process, if applicable, is highly important to protect yourself.
There are three criteria necessary to secure a patent. That it is:
- Involves an inventive step
- Capable of industrial application
So, not every product will be patented. But if you believe your invention meets the criteria above, as long as the invention is secret and not known to the public, you can apply for a patent at any time.
However, you should consult with a patent agent so that you don’t apply too early (when the invention is not fully developed) or too late (when someone could have filed a patent for the same invention before you). Be sure to check whether your patent already exists before you file for one.
Patents last for 20 years. However, short-term patents of 10 years are also available in Ireland. Remember, the Patents Office will not help you to develop or market your patent.
This covers aesthetic creations such as the contours and shape of a particular product, packaging or label. Design registration protects the way a product looks, and is the only way to get exclusive rights to such aesthetic creations. An example here would be a perfume bottle.
Benefits of an IP strategy
- Reviewing competitors’ IP can provide competitive intelligence.
- Reviewing other patents can help you avoid wasting time on products that are already out there.
- IP research can identify potential collaborators.
- Businesses that have planned for extensive IP protection can attract investment.
- A ‘qualifying patent’ could attract tax relief.
IP pitfalls to avoid
- Not registering trademarks.
- Assuming registering a company name with the Companies Registration Office (CRO) gives equal protection to that provided by trademarks.
- Trying to patent a product after it has been launched on the market.
- Not registering designs.
- Not planning for IP creation.
- Not budgeting for registration of IP.
- Falling foul of another business’s IP rights.
4 Action Points