The main UK intellectual property (IP) rules are laid down in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
IP law aims to automatically safeguard certain intellectual property rights. Applications can also be made for other types of legal protection:
Intellectual property rights
Industrial property rights
Taking out a patent gives you the right to stop people from making, using, importing or selling your invention without your permission. A granted patent can remain in force for up to 20 years.
If you want to apply for a patent, you can choose to apply either by post or electronically. Electronic filing may be particularly attractive if you apply or will in future apply for a patent on a regular basis.
If your business creates original works, copyright protection could be an important part of ensuring its success. It might be essential to enforce your rights if a rival with a similar product or service copies your instruction manual for instance. As a copyright owner, it is for you to decide whether and how to license use of your work. The UK Government's Business Link website provides full guidance on copyright rules, including lists of what is automatically covered, what is not, and how to get copyright protection.
A trademark can provide a distinctive way of representing your goods or services that sets them apart from those of other traders. Common law may give some trade mark protection automatically but you should consider registering your trade mark for added protection.
A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is a legal contract between you and another partner not to disclose information you have shared for a specific purpose, allowing businesses to approach potential partners, suppliers, customers, etc. knowing that information cannot be legally passed on. This can be used to share intellectual property, commercial information, business plans, etc.
Protecting intellectual rights abroad
UK copyright law usually provides automatic protection abroad as the UK is a member of many international agreements. However, UK registration of a design, patent, or trade mark does not protect it elsewhere in the EU and abroad.
Combating counterfeiting and piracy
The unauthorised use of your IP is a criminal offence in some instances and can lead to prosecution under Section 94 of the Trade Mark Act in relation to Trade Mark infringement, and Sections 107A and 198 of the Copyright, Design, and Patent Act in relation to Copyright infringement.
It is unlawful to apply a registered trade mark to goods, or to make an exact copy of goods which have the benefit of a registered trade mark registration, without the permission of the trade mark owner.
Even where goods are not subject to a trade mark registration, it is sometimes still possible to bring an action against someone making copies of goods, or attaching marks to goods, without the permission of the person already trading in those goods and associated marks. This is called a ‘passing-off ' action.
Copyright may exist in certain goods, such as artistic designs on clothing, computer programs, CDs, DVDs and other electronic media. An infringement of copyright may occur where goods are copied without the permission of the copyright owner.
Property rights encourage investment in innovation and research.
Additional IP rights in the UK
Applications for additional IP rights can be made through the UK's Intellectual Property Office and through a locally registered IP attorney. The IPO's forms and fees are available on its website. You can complete the forms and send them back to the IPO online, or through a UK-based IP attorney.
Before applying for IP protection, a Confidentiality Disclosure Agreement (CDA) should be considered when disclosing confidential information to a third party.
Extending UK IP rights abroad
Usually, you need to apply for your IP rights abroad. However, some countries may extend your UK protection, accepting it as protected in the country concerned, after completing certain local requirements. You can also extend the UK's IP rights abroad through national IP offices, Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM) and European Patent Office (EPO). Design and trademark protection must be applied for separately through each EC country's IP office.
Extending UK IP rights in the EU
The OHIM provides harmonised protection for IP in the EU under a Registered Community Design (RCD) and Community Trade Mark (CTM). You can apply for RCDs and CTMs and their renewal on the OHIM website. You can also oppose an RCD and CTM application online.
The European Patent Convention (EPC) protects patents in more than 30 European countries. IPO permission is required for extending a UK patent on military technology or that could threaten national security or public safety. The EPO processes all applications as a single application. If several countries are designated, separate patents will result. Patent applications can be filed online.
The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) provides patent protection in Europe through the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). Users can file international applications on WIPO's website or on CD-R.
Guidance on showing your IP is protected can be found on the IPO website
IPO's brochure 'Intellectual property explained', EPO's online services discussion forum and the OHIM website's Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) are a valuable source of information.
Business Link and UK Trade & Investment's websites also offer advice on exploiting IP rights.