Friday Support: IP – How can I protect what I’ve got?

The fourth in a series of 10 blogs by Martin Brassell of Inngot, helping you find your own answers to 10 key questions about your intellectual property, or IP.

As with any kind of property, safeguarding your IP is important. The ways in which you can protect it vary according to what it is. Having covered aspects of copyright in the last blog, let’s take a look at some of the other types of IP.

If you have come up with an original, technical, ‘physical’ solution to a problem, then the first thing to consider is whether you might want to patent it. If successful, this gives you up to 20 years’ worth of state-backed monopolistic protection for an innovation.

Because the patenting process involves publishing what you’ve invented in detail, it’s ideal for situations where it will be immediately obvious to everyone how your brilliant idea works. However, it’s not cheap: over its lifetime, a UK patent will cost on average around £20,000 in fees and renewals. Also, many businesses find that the UK alone is not enough. And you will almost certainly need good professional advice to get a patent that’s worth having.

If on the other hand it’s feasible to keep your invention secret, you might prefer to do just that. This could apply to cases where you can maintain complete control over a production process, or can ‘bury’ your innovation inside an and product. You won’t have the same legal protection and will have to safeguard your property via contracts (in which respect employment and supplier contracts are key).

If your innovation is not necessarily new, but is a distinctive way of addressing a need that is particular to you, then registering a trade mark should be high on your list of priorities. This allows you to protect the identity of your business and the products and services that are uniquely associated with it – effectively, to create a brand.

You can renew trade marks indefinitely – there’s no 20 year ceiling. You can protect not only names but also distinctive logo styles, colours (think Cadburys purple), shapes (think Coke bottle) and sounds (think Direct Line jingle).

Moreover, there’s something almost ‘magnetic’ about trade marks. A whole range of otherwise unprotectable intangible assets (including the most elusive one, goodwill) have associations with branding and can therefore receive a degree of protection. If someone messes with your registered trade mark, you may successfully argue that they have damaged your reputation as well as your profits.

If your distinctive products or services include an element of design (which can include on-screen designs), this is also registrable at low cost (though for a limited time period). You can even register it a number of months after you have first shown others the design, unlike a patent.

Also, if the style in question is three-dimensional, you benefit automatically from some protection under what’s known as design right. Sometimes called the ‘poor man’s patent’, this does at least mean that if you create something new, the state recognises you’re entitled not to be ripped off.

Visit for details of how to profile and value your IP and intangibles.


Others in the series:

De-mystifying IP

Unlocking the hidden value of apps

IP - What have I got?

IP - Is what I have original and distinctive?

Is my IP really mine?

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