Pay attention to your intellectual property
For many businesses their brand and reputation can be two of the most valuable assets they own. However, the fact that these assets are intangible can sometimes mean that their importance to the business is easily underestimated.
The protection of both the brand and reputation of a business can be split into two parts, the initial protection of your brand and then the on-going policing of use of the brand and monitoring of infringements, which could impact on your reputation, or dilute / damage the value of your brand.
Protecting your brand should form part of the management of your intellectual property portfolio. Your business’ name and trade marks / brands act as a signpost for customers to your business and represent a symbol of quality and denote origin of those goods or services.
The protection of your trade mark is therefore of paramount importance in order to deter others from using it. Registered trade marks (that you need to apply for) can, in theory, last indefinitely (on payment of renewal fees). A business should seek to register its brands in all countries in which it is/will be promoting and selling its goods/services. If a business does not seek to register its trade mark, then it might have unregistered trade mark rights so it can protect the goodwill built up in a brand, but enforcement of these can be complex and time consuming.
In addition to trade marks, businesses may also want to protect:
- Formulas, devices and other technical inventions through the grant of a patent. To obtain a patent it is necessary to file an application. Patents can be very valuable as they ring-fence your market for a 20 year period.
- Confidential information that is sensitive / critical to your business (‘know-how’). These rights arise automatically, however protection is dependant on the law of confidentiality, therefore non-disclosure agreements and other technical measures (encryption, passwords, etc.) should be put in place to protect know-how and/or trade secrets.
- Design rights to protect the appearance of the whole or part of a product.
- Copyright, which may also exist in works such as website content, software coding, manuals, pictures, drawings, etc. Copyright protects the form of an expression of an idea, not the idea itself. The right arises automatically as soon as the relevant work is created and enables the copyright owner to prevent a third party from copying their work.
- Databases, which may attract database rights where the owner has made substantial investment into obtaining, verifying or presenting the contents of the database.
Once your intellectual property has been registered or protected, it can be easy to assume that the job of protecting it, and in turn your company’s reputation is finished. Unfortunately, this is not the case and the on-going monitoring of your intellectual property in order to check for infringement is essential. This ensures that you maintain the goodwill and reputation that is associated with your intellectual property and continue to protect this within the business. Failure to protect it could result in a reduction in value of the intellectual property and in turn the value of the business itself.
Next steps in brand and reputation protection
Given the inherent value in the brand and reputation of a business and in order to allow the company to commercialise this value, a company should carefully consider what their most important pieces of intellectual property are and protect them accordingly. After you have protected your intellectual property, you should consider the best way to monitor it. The monitoring of intellectual property should not be seen as a daunting task, with many companies providing services to assist businesses and individuals in the on-going protection of their intellectual property, including watching services and intellectual property portfolio management.
For more information on intellectual property and brand protection, please contact Debbie Venn, Partner and Head of Technology, Media and Telecommunications.
Published: 30 Mar 2016