Intellectual property and the law that surrounds the protection of brands, ideas and image rights is hitting the news with considerable frequency at the moment. The latest big story broke last Friday, with the news that rapper Jay-Z and wife Beyoncé had trademark registered their baby daughter’s name, Blue Ivy™, much to the annoyance of a Boston wedding planner who has been trading under the same name since 2009.
If this all seems a bit too Hollywood, the realities of trademark protection are brought home by the fact that Jamie Oliver and even Alan Titchmarsh have trademarks protecting their names from association with the sale of a wide range of products.
Whilst it may seem obvious that celebrities need to stay ahead of the game when it comes to protecting their image rights, the same cannot be said for Britain’s small businesses. Surveys by the Intellectual Property Office consistently show that as many as 85% of our small and startup companies neglect the need to protect their IP.
It is unclear what exactly is putting business owners and managers off dealing with IP issues, other than the obvious deterrent of cost and the oft-used excuse of ignorance. Outside of this, there may also be a perception that what a start-up business is doing needs little protection until it proves to be a success, by which time of course it may all be too late.
According to experts, the one thing start-ups should not be in this area is ignorant. The Intellectual Property Office offers all businesses a free online IP Healthcheck tool to help owners and managers understand their IP needs, and there is a wide range of information (of varying quality) available online for those wishing to gen up on patents, trademarks and copyrights.
For those who choose to do nothing, intellectual property law can still help. Copyright protection is afforded to all original works automatically, which means that you do not need to do anything in order to benefit from some legal protections. Copyright will cover all your writing, photography and images, online videos and original computer software and databases. If anyone copies your original material then you can use an IP lawyer to ask them to remove offending content from their website or published material, and then proceed to claim for damages.
For other types of IP, and here we’re talking about design works, innovations and ideas, logos and branding, you will need an IP lawyer to help you register your Intellectual Property rights for ownership of the material you wish to protect. Trademarks are used to register use of your branding, and patents to register your ownership of original innovations and ideas. The protections afforded by these legal tools are broad, capable of international recognition if registered appropriately, and can add real value to your business.
Of course the registration and acknowledgement of IP law is just an initial step. The real value in asserting your start-up’s commercial rights over branding, ideas and innovations lies in your ability to enforce those rights against others who may seek to imitate and copy for their commercial benefit. The financial advantages of this approach are highlighted no clearer than in a US court’s recent decision to award Apple $1bn after deciding that rivals Samsung copied a number of their ideas in their phones and tablet devices.
Author Signature: Nick Branch received his LLB from the University of the West of England in 2004. Nick then become a director of two property-related businesses. He is now currently studying to become a doctor on the fast-track graduate entry medicine course at King’s College London and is a contributing writer for Contact Law on law topics.