Intellectual Property

Since developing Access Regional into a magazine and finding a unique way of distributing, I have been furiously trying to find out about intellectual property. After all, if you have an idea which people have told you is good, you want to try and protect it as much as possible. Despite having found experts willing to spend time speaking to me about it, I still find the topic very complex. But I shall try to give you the basic concept behind the different forms of intellectual property:

  • Patent: this gives an inventor the exclusive rights to their invention for a specific period of time. This means that only they can make, use and sell this product. An invention can be defined as a product or process which solves a technological problem, i.e. a solution, not simply an idea. A good example is ‘Dyson’, who own around 430 patents which define how they make their vacuum cleaners (you cannot simply patent a full product).
  • Copyright: this gives the creator of an original piece of work, the right to use it. Copyrights are used for a range of ‘works’, so something creative, such as a book. Again, a copyright does not cover an idea, but instead the manner in which it is expressed. So it basically gives you the right to copy your work, whilst stopping others from doing so.
  • Trademarks: this recognises a design or sign which identifies the company’s product or service. For example, ‘Nike’ have their name and logo registered as trademarks so that no one could imitate them.

These are the main 3 types of protection which you are likely to come into contact with, however ‘trade dress’ (protecting the appearance of a product or packaging) and ‘trade secrets’ (laws protecting a process or company information) are also other forms of intellectual property.

Particularly when starting out, it is well worth looking into intellectual property, and how much an application would cost, and indeed ensuring that you’re not treading on anyone else’s IP toes. Sometimes it’s not possible to protect your product, so when entering a market place, simply being the first in and then building a strong brand is essential. ‘Innocent’ are a very good example of this, given that they couldn’t protect the idea of offering smoothies, yet they were first to market and have since built a strong brand. This has meant that despite people imitating the concept, they maintain their market share and customer loyalty.

This is also the path I’ve gone down. A great place to start is checking the UK Intellectual Property website to see if something exists. Ensure it is different enough from what you have in mind, so simply adding a ‘-‘ or ‘,’ to an existing trademark, could mean you are taken to court, which even if you win, will cost you money! The process itself can take a few months, and cost £170 if you do it online, but any sort of protection you can get for your product or service is well worth investigating.

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