Ten ways to protect your intellectual property

Intellectual property text

Intellectual property (IP) theft is surprisingly common. If you haven't taken steps to protect your ideas, designs, trade marks and copyrighted material, there may be nothing you can do to prevent it. Here's how to make sure other people don't misuse your IP

First of all, consider trademark registration. What is trademark registration and why is it important? Trademark registration legally secures your IP, giving you exclusive rights to use your mark in commerce. This protection helps prevent others from using a similar mark that could confuse consumers and dilute your brand's value.

  1. List all your IP assets. Ensure that you have a procedure in place to assess and account for your IP, from trade marks, copyrights and designs, to patents and domain names. Use the free IP Healthcheck tool from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to compile a list of the IP you own.
  2. Check that your IP idea is original. Use patent and trade mark searches early in the development of new products, logos and processes to establish whether someone else has got there first and protected them. This is a complex area. Consider using the services of a patent or trade mark attorney. They can help you ensure your search is thorough and that your invention truly is new.
  3. Record evidence proving you have created the IP. Keep a log of evidence that records the development of your IP. For example, file dated and signed copies of drawings and drafts.
  4. Prevent IP theft with robust contracts. Ensure all your employment and consultancy contracts clearly state your ownership of any IP developed by your firm.
  5. Seek expert advice if you are unsure you are protected. To ensure that any trade mark you create is properly protected, contact a trade mark agent for advice through the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys. Find a patent agent through the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys.
  6. Protect your IP early as registration takes time. It typically takes between 2 and 4 years to get a UK patent granted. However, under certain circumstances, it is possible to have your UK patent fast-tracked - reducing the waiting time to under a year. Fast track approval is available for inventions that offer an environmental benefit and those that have already received a positive examination report from an international patent office. It typically takes about six months to register a trade mark.
  7. Guard against IP infringement online. IP infringement has become easier with the growth of internet use and social networking. It happens more than you think - you post a blog or image online and someone else takes it and passes it off as their own. Copyright and ownership notices will do a lot to put them off, and make it easier to seek redress. Use search engines to check that no one is using your copy, logo or images without your permission.
  8. Protect your IP outside the UK. Seek advice from a patent and/or trademark attorney on whether you need to protect your IP overseas. Remember you will need separate international patents, design registration and trade marks to protect your IP abroad.
  9. Keep an eye out for IP scams. The IPO has warned that applicants and owners of UK trademarks and patents have received bogus letters from scammers demanding payment in return for registering their details. To avoid falling prey to fraudsters, only deal with official bodies such as the IPO or the European Patent Office (or patent and trademark attorneys) when making applications.
  10. Be prepared to take legal action over IP infringement. Weigh up whether taking legal action will be worth the expense, but be prepared to pursue offenders for infringement where necessary - sometimes one stiff letter gets results. Alternatively, be prepared to sit down and negotiate a licence, at least this way you avoid court and could be paid some royalties.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.