HM Insights

Intellectual Property: What do business owners need to know?

All businesses will rely on some form of intellectual property (IP) whether it’s a business logo, to protect a new idea, an original work, an invention, a design right or confidential information. These can form valuable core assets of your business which is why it is important to think about IP from an early stage and identify what IP you use in your business, as well as how you can protect and best utilise your IP.

Intellectual Property Brain Light Bulb Diagram

This guide sets out the 5 key points that business owners should consider when it comes to IP.  

  1. You should be aware of the different types of IP rights that exist. Some IP rights require registration - such as trademarks which can be used to distinguish your business logo or name from another or patents which can be used to protect your inventions. Others arise automatically on creation - such as copyright which protects creative works including literary and artistic works and unregistered design rights which protect designs. An understanding of the different rights which exist should allow you to identify the type of protection your business requires and whether or not you already have that protection or if you need to take steps to obtain it.

  2. You should check whether you have freedom to operate in the market. Before you seek to register new IP rights or use IP you should consider the existing IP rights of third parties. This can take the form of simple precautionary steps at the start to ensure that your business will not accidentally infringe the IP rights of another person. This can be done in a number of ways, including searching online databases for patents that have been granted or for prior registered trademarks and registered designs. Liability could arise if you were to infringe another person’s IP rights so this relatively straightforward step could be extremely worthwhile.

  3. You should consider protecting your brand and registering your rights. Registering your company at Companies House will not automatically give you rights in the name as a brand. A registered trademark will give you greater scope and rights to prevent others from using your brand and may allow you to raise enforcement procedures if your brand is infringed. If you have an invention, patent rights give rights to stop unauthorised use of your invention without your permission. Registered IP rights have an added benefit as they are capable of being licensed to others, which can generate an income for your business.

  4. You should identify confidential information including trade secrets and ideas and take steps to protect it. This is particularly significant if you are applying for patent protection, since an invention is not patentable if it has been made available to the public. If you are going to share any confidential information with potential partners you should seek protection by signing a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement.

  5. You should think about employee involvement and whether this could affect the ownership of your IP. When an employee creates IP in the course of their employment, the employer will generally own the IP. Your contracts of employment for employees should clearly state who is to own IP created by employees. If you engage a self-employed contractor, unless the contract or terms and conditions state otherwise, any IP created by the contractor will belong to the contractor. Confidentiality clauses should also form part of the contract of employment where employees have access to confidential information.

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