IHBC CPD boost on ‘IPR’ from Design council: What is Intellectual Property? – An expert’s introduction

Question markDesign Council Spark has published a post on Intellectual Property (IP) from brand and design expert John Coldham, a director at leading IP law firm Gowling WLG, who is part of the Design Council Spark Community.

John Coldham, for Design Council Spark, writes:

IP, or ‘intellectual property’ is the cornerstone of the protection of creativity. It is all very well coming up with a great new idea, but it is really important that you are able to ensure that others cannot copy it as soon as you make it public. There are many different types of protection for different things; from design rights for products and copyright for artworks, literature and music, to trademarks for your brand and patents for inventions.

It is common for a single product to have more than one type of protection. Consider an Aero chocolate bar as an example. A simple thing, but full of IP. The name AERO will be a trademark, the shape of the bar might be protected as a registered design, the artwork on the packaging might be protected by copyright or designs, and that clever way they put the bubbles inside used to be covered by a patent.

Why is IP protection important?
IP is what allows you to have exclusivity over what it is you have created for a period of time. You are allowed to be the sole person to market a particular design, invention, etc. This means that if someone else markets the same or a similar product, you have the right to stop them. For some IP rights you need to prove they copied you, but some (for example registered designs) you do not.

What more should be considered?
Your brand is key; it is the identity by which you and your products will be known. It’s really important that the identity you choose is protected by a trademark. The trademark registration acts as a warning to others that they should choose a different name, and it also means that if someone does stray too close, you can take steps to stop them.  If you didn’t do that, you could have a competitor with a very similar name, which your customers might think is you, or at least linked to you, making sales you should be making. Worse still, the other company may not have the same high standards as you, so customers who have been confused into buying the wrong thing might start telling the world it’s no good, which will have a knock-on effect on your future sales. This is far more common than people expect.

If you’re designing a product, protect its design. Many designs are the subject of hundreds of prototypes, with dedicated designers working away to make the perfect product. Many companies out there are perfectly willing to allow someone to hone the design, and wait until it’s perfect before copying it, and selling it slightly more cheaply. Design protection is not perfect, but it can stop a lot of these rip offs from happening.

Does it cost a lot?
No – some rights are automatically created and are free! To make the most of these, just ensure you keep documents that show who designed the product, when it was designed, and where. If it was not designed by you, seek advice, as you may need to take some simple steps to ensure you own the rights.

The cost of registered rights, which are often stronger, depends on what you want to protect, and where you want to sell your product. If nothing else, ensure you have protection in your home market, such as the UK. This needn’t cost a lot – consider it part of your marketing expenses. The official fees for filing a trademark are around £200, and UK registered designs cost significantly less the more you file at once – £7 each for the first 10, then £2 for each one after that. Patents cost a lot more, but they give you a leading edge in the market based on the technical aspects of your innovation, so the costs are usually significantly outweighed by the benefits.

These are the basic costs; I would really recommend using an attorney to file these rights, to ensure they are worth the paper they are written on. Whilst filing them yourself is better than not filing them at all, attorney advice is likely to mean the rights are stronger and more useful so it is worth the additional cost.

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