Scientific inventions, commercial designs, songs, sculptures, novels and dramatic performances all share one thing in common—they are protected by Intellectual Property law.
Intellectual Property law protects creations of the mind. It is designed to protect such creations being ripped off, copied, stolen or otherwise exploited. It is a fascinating and complex area of the law.
Intellectual Property law is generally divided up into four categories: patents; trade marks; copyright; and designs.
The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is the government body responsible for granting intellectual property rights in the UK.
Patents protect inventions of all kinds. It allows the inventor to stop others from exploiting their invention.
In order for an invention to be patented, it must satisfy certain tests. It must be ‘new’, have an ‘inventive step’, and be capable of being ‘made, or used’. It must not fall into one of the IPO’s excluded categories (these are listed by the IPO, and include a plant variety and a musical work).
The IPO grants patents in the UK. If an invention is not patented, then anyone can use it without seeking the inventor’s permission.
According to the IPO, trade marks are “symbols that distinguish goods and services in the marketplace (like brand names and logos)”.
The owner of a trade mark can take legal action against anyone who uses it without their permission, or
Once a trade mark has been registered with the IPO, its owner can put the symbol, ®, next to it, or the abbreviation, ‘TM’. This warns others against using it without your permission.
Within the EU, it is possible to register a Community Trade Mark (CTM) which covers the mark in all EU countries. Otherwise, the trade mark is registered in the country of registration only.
If the trade mark has not been registered, however, its owner can still take legal action against anyone using it without their permission. This is known as a ‘passing off’ action.
Copyright is usually asserted somewhere in the work by the sign: ©.
For example, Copyright © 2009 Jack Jones.
This symbol serves the useful purpose of deterring others from copying the work. However, copyright can exist even if this symbol is not used.
Copyright gives the creator of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work the right to control the way in which their work is used. The creator can assign copyright to another person, for example, the publisher. You do not have to apply for copyright, as it exists automatically. As a precaution, however, the author will usually take steps to register their copyright.
Copyright lasts for a certain period of time—usually 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies, in the case of work that is written, performed or exhibited; and 50 years for sound recordings.
Copyright applies to the whole of a recorded or published work, and not to an idea on which the work is based.
Design is about the way a product looks. They can apply to a design of a chair or an aeroplane—what is important is that the design is unique.
Design rights exist automatically, and there is no need to register a design with the IPO in order to acquire these rights. However, registering the design means the owner will be more able to prove their rights, and will therefore be better protected.
A design can be registered as long as it is ‘new’ and has ‘individual character’. The owner of the design then has proof they have certain rights, which are only enforceable in the UK.
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