IP feature – Insight (Jan. 2016)


Samsung to pay Apple $548M as part of endless patent case.” “Trademark sparks ‘bitter’ battle.” Intellectual Property (IP) is increasingly in the news, but what does it all mean?

 What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual Property is generated whenever an individual or company creates something different or unique. The creative investment and hard work that went into developing this IP can in turn be protected by IP rights (IPR), whether it is a technical invention (patents), an artistic work (copyright) or even the identity of your company or products (trademarks). Whilst many smaller companies may see IPR as a difficult and expensive area, IP is increasingly important for competitiveness in the global economy, and businesses ignore it at their own peril.

What are the types of IPR?

  • PATENTS – protect technical inventions (how it works) that are ‘new’ and ‘not obvious’ compared to what has been done or published before;
  • DESIGNS – protect the distinctive look or appearance of an article. The way the article is put together or used is irrelevant, it’s only the aesthetic appearance that is important;
  • COPYRIGHT – everyone is aware of copyright with respect to the creative industries such as the film and music businesses, but it’s also relevant in general industry too, protecting items such as technical drawings, reports, brochures and software;
  • TRADEMARKS – are signs (e.g. name, logo or image, tag line and sounds) that are sufficiently distinctive to distinguish the products and services of one business from those of another in the course of trade.

Intellectual Property, whilst intangible, is still property – an asset that can be bought and sold or pledged as collateral against a loan. Intellectual property may be one of the most valuable assets your business owns, despite often being invisible in comparison with a business’s physical assets. Recognising fully what IP your own and use, and deciding how best to protect and leverage these assets, is thus critical.

Common questions and myths:

  • IP isn’t relevant to my business, because we don’t create anything particularly special or new. Every business will own or use some type of IP, even if it is only the business name;
  • My business simply can’t afford IP, as it’s far too expensive! But can you afford to ignore it? Seeking advice about, or protection for, your IP may be far less expensive than the loss of business if others copy your ideas, not to mention the potential damages if you inadvertently infringe someone else’s IP rights;
  • How can I possibly know what is protected by Intellectual Property rights, because it is secret isn’t it? In fact, this is one of the most common misconceptions about Intellectual Property. Registered Intellectual Property Rights have always been publicly available, now more so than ever thanks to the Internet;
  • Of course I own the IP rights – I paid for the work! Not necessarily. This area is a legal minefield, but it will depend on exactly what the contract says. When paying someone else for development work, if you are at all uncertain, then seek professional advice in advance;
  • I’ve just had a wonderful idea for a new widget – what should I do? Well first, don’t celebrate down the pub (yet)! Disclosure of your idea, even if accidental, may prevent you later protecting it. Instead talk to your local Patent Attorney; the initial consultation is often free, and is time well spent if it avoids your competitors getting free access to your ideas.

 For more information, see the following free resources on the Internet:



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Debra J.C. Smith   B.Eng., CPA, EPA

UK & European Patent Attorney