Intellectual property is a subject that often comes up with the businesses I work with, so I felt it would be worthwhile to take a look back to when Liz Paton from Tarnished Studios facilitated a workshop on Intellectual Property (IP) at a Crafty Business meeting. The knowledge that she shared is still relevant and I often refer to some of the situations that we looked at together.
Liz took us through some basics by looking at some tricky scenarios* as we explored various IP issues and learnt what a minefield the whole issue can be!
So, to start, let’s clarify:
The Intellectual Property Office defines Intellectual Property (IP) as:
“something unique that you physically create. An idea alone is not intellectual property. For example, an idea for a book doesn’t count, but the words you’ve written do.”
Having an awareness of IP is important in businesses as having the right type of intellectual property protection helps you to stop people stealing or copying your products, inventions or creative work.
There are different types of intellectual property protection such as copyright, patents and trade marks. You get some types of protection automatically, while you have to apply for others.
However, it’s often a subject which is overlooked and many people don’t realise what IP they own or, for that matter, what they don’t!
Here are some of the situations that Liz shared with us. Let’s see if you know your IP from your elbow!
Q – Bob is a web designer and has started a new company ‘Funky Bat Limited’. His logo is a plum-coloured bat with the company name inside and the name is in a distinctive typeface. All his marketing material will be the same bat shape, plum-coloured with the same typeface – from business cards, website design, mouse mats, even the invoices will be in bat shaped plum-coloured envelopes. His website is www.funkybatsoftware.co.uk
- Can Bob register any of the above elements as a trademark?
- Even if Bob doesn’t register any trademarks, does he have any protection?
A – The short answer is yes! Anything that is distinctive can be registered. For example:
- BP have trademarked the green used in their logo.
- No-one else in their business sector can legally use it. Other sectors, who aren’t in competition with them, however, can.
- The unmistakeable shape of a Toblerone is trademarked.
- Interestingly, this doesn’t mean that no-one can replicate their triangular box, but that doing so in the confectionary sector is a no-no.
- Goodyear had an interesting product that they trademarked – tyres that smell of roses. You may, like me, wonder if it was worth it. But I’m not a petrol-head so what do I know?
Copyright is automatically given to the author of anything that is written down, so as long as Bob has everything on record, then he has protection.
Q – Melanie owns a Software company called ‘Cyberdyne’, that creates bespoke software. Jo’s Accounting have asked Cyberdyne to create them a new piece of accounting software. They have asked Melanie to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and given her access to their clients accounts. Melanie’s company is only small so she’s ask her friend Sarah if she could help to finish the the project. Sarah has agreed to do this for a one off fee as she does not work for Melanie’s company. The new accounting software has been a success and Melanie thinks she could sell it to other accounts and make a profit.
- Can Melanie sell the software commercially?
- Has the ownership or confidentiality agreement been effected by Melanie outsourcing the end of the project to Sarah?
A – Melanie and Sarah are the authors so they jointly hold the copyright. The accountancy firm owns only a limited licence for the use that they employed Melanie to create the software for, so if they wanted to sell it on they would need to get a further licence from Melanie and Sarah, which would obviously cost more.
Melanie signed an NDA and then took on employees to work on the project , so they also need to sign an agreement or she is breaking her contract.
Q – Polly has designed a toy that she has called ‘Pepe The Parrot®’. She has taken the technical drawings to a local plastics company to create a prototype. She has not yet applied to register any trade marks. The prototype ‘Pepe The Parrot®’ looks noticeably different to Polly’s design. Polly has also contacted a marketing company who have produced promotional material for ‘Pepe The Parrot®’.
- Has Polly lost any of her IP writes by allowing changes to be made to her design?
- Can Polly use the name ‘Pepe The Parrot®’?
- What questions should Polly be asking the Marketing company, if any?
A – Polly owns her original design, but not the alterations made by the manufacturers. Together they have joint ownership of the revised model.
Polly can use the name as long as it’s not been registered by someone else previously. The problem is that she shouldn’t use the ® symbol on anything until its registered and she could get fined if she is caught. As an alternative, she could us ‘TM’ instead. While this doesn’t hold any weight legally, it may scare some people off from stealing your idea.
Melanie should be asking the marketing company who owns her literature. While she owns the printed pieces they produced for her, she has no legal ownership of the designs themselves, which they own unless it has been formally signed over to her.
So we see from these examples that a trademark can, in principle, stop people copying your design, but that the restrictions only go so far.
Copyright is automatically given to the author of anything that is written down. You can’t copyright an idea, so if you have a fantastic brainwave, put pen to paper to seal the deal!
One way to find out if anyone has copied your ideas online you can do a ‘reverse Google search’ by going to Google.com, images. Upload your image and see what comes up.
If you find that someone has breached your copyright you can send them a cease and desist letter (downloadable from the IPO website)
For more information on licensing go to the Intellectual Property Office at www.IPO.gov.uk.
They are available for advice over the phone for the cost of the call, and you can also download NDA templates, cease and desist letters for free from their website.
*based on documents supplied by the Intellectual Property Office.