James Love Legal

James Love Legal

Law Practice Specialising in UK and international Intellectual Property

What is IP?

Intellectual property is the legal means to protect the result of creativity, imagination and ideas.

It is very wide ranging and the rules are often complex.

The main types of IP in the UK are summarised below:

Patents protect inventions.

An invention is a product or process which is new and not obvious.

  • 20 year monopoly
  • Protects concepts and ideas, not just designs
  • Valuable business asset
  • Strong negotiating position in disputes
  • Increases profit margins
  • Lucrative source of income through licensing
  • Cost
  • Must apply before marketing
  • Software difficult to protect in Europe
  • Details of invention must be disclosed
  • Stringent application requirements
  • Pronounce 'Pat' as in 'Hat' not as in 'Hate'
  • Rights are lost if ideas published before application
  • Poor due diligence can lead to paying inflated prices for patented technology

Registered trade marks protect names, brands and logos, including not only words and designs, but also shapes, sounds, colours and smells.

  • Monopoly in relation to specific goods and services
  • Single right can extend across the European Union
  • Valuable business asset
  • Registration warns off competitors
  • Can last forever
  • Strong position in disputes
  • Can apply at any time
  • Can use ®
  • Simpler and cheaper to enforce than passing off
  • Cost
  • Registration formalities
  • Can become invalid if mark not used or used incorrectly
  • This symbol can be used to indicate a trade mark is registered. To use it in conjunction with an unregistered mark is a criminal offence.
  • Failure to register quickly can allow a competitor to register first
  • Failure to register updated versions of a trade mark can result in invalidity
  • No significant brand protection is obtained merely by registering a domain or company name

Registered designs protect the appearance of new designs of individual character.

  • 25 year monopoly
  • Modest cost
  • Easy to obtain
  • A single registration can cover the European Union
  • Valuable business asset
  • Strong position in disputes
  • Only protects appearance, not concepts
  • Prior publication can invalidate registration
  • Sometimes have questionable validity
  • This form of protection is frequently overlooked before it is too late
  • Better protection can be obtained by careful consideration of the images filed

Designs can be protected to some extent in the UK and EU even if not registered.

  • Available across the European Union
  • No registration formalities
  • Only prevents copying, not independent creation
  • Short term of protection, particularly at the EU level
  • No register to warn off infringers
  • Failure to keep adequate records can result in poor enforceability
  • Ownership can be lost if appropriate contracts are not in place  

Copyright protects the embodiment of an idea.

It is very wide ranging. A few examples of items protected include software, photographs, text, maps, drawings, typefaces, music, videos, works of art and performances.

Moral rights give authors, directors and performers rights to be correctly identified and to object against derogatory treatment of works; they also confer privacy on some films and photographs.

  • Enforceable overseas
  • No registration formalities
  • Long term of validity
  • Only prevents copying, not independent creation
  • No register to warn off infringers
  • Protects the embodiment of ideas, not the ideas themselves
  • Appropriate contractual protection is also important
  • The internationally recognised copyright symbol attached to copyright works (together with the year and the owner's name) can help assert copyright and warn off infringers.
  • This is the relatively recent symbol for copyleft. It has no legal status and copyleft is not a legal right. Rather, it is a method of licensing copyright, permitting a generous amount of copying but requiring any licensee to perpetuate the copyleft licensing scheme.
  • Ownership – if you commission a website, a brochure or software, it is possible the designer, and not you, will own the copyright
  • Photocopying and copying from the web – this can lead to criminal records for a company and its directors, and awards of additional damage without statutory limit

Confidential Information law protects secret and private information.

  • Can last forever
  • No registration formalities
  • Wide range of information protectable
  • For best protection, procedures and contracts required
  • Conflicting claims can be difficult to resolve
  • Does not prevent independent creation of the information
  • Protection is destroyed if the information enters the public domain legitimately
  • Can conflict with Human Rights law which promotes freedom of expression

Database right protects against the unauthorised extraction of data from a database.

  • Lower threshold for originality than copyright
  • Protection is continuing if database continually updated
  • No registration formalities
  • Extends to protection across the European Union
  • If database is not updated, protection shorter than copyright
  • Unlike copyright, no extension beyond the EU
  • Establishing ownership is difficult where a number of parties have been involved in compiling the database
  • Compliance with data protection regulations is important  

If your business or products have goodwill, you may be able to stop others trading off that goodwill under the law of passing off. For example, you may be able to stop someone copying your trading style or get-up.

You can also protect your reputation by stopping others making false statements about your goods under the law of malicious falsehood (also known as trade libel)

  • No registration formalities
  • Can last forever
  • Expensive to enforce
  • Vague and intangible, so lower worth than a registered right
  • No register to warn off infringers
  • May have limited geographical extent
  • Letters commonly used to assert rights in an unregistered trade mark. They have no legal status and some consider them to stand for “Totally Meaningless”.
  • Failure to keep appropriate records means reputation may be difficult to prove
  • Competitors may register conflicting trade marks
  • Establishing when a style was first used can create evidential challenges