This article was first published in The Scotsman and is available at www.scotsman.com/news/david-murray-protecting-ideas-a-patently-good-idea-1-4030297.

2016 has been designated as Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design and is aimed at showcasing and celebrating the country’s innovative individuals and companies with a number of events over the course of this year. These events across Scotland will honour the many inventions and designs that originated here and went on to change the world.

In my experience, Scotland remains one of the most innovative countries in the world, with its world-leading healthcare and electronics industries, not to mention the innovative companies in the energy supply chain. It is right to recognise this characteristic of our history, present and future. To ensure innovation retains its place in our economy, however, it is important to safeguard it and make sure that innovative companies reap the rewards from their ingenuity, creativity and hard work. To do this, they need to successfully identify and capture the innovation they generate, then go onto protect it.

Both here and in many countries around the world, legal protection for innovation can be sought using intellectual property (IP) rights, including patents, registered designs and trade marks, amongst a range of other rights.

As the name suggests, registered designs provide protection for the appearance of new designs with individual character. Registered designs are a relatively quick and cost-effective way to capture non-functional product designs, design developments as well as novel two dimensional and three dimensional designs in all areas of technology, including those as diverse as construction products, tools and equipment, company logos and packaging and consumer products. Indeed, in some cases – and provided a number of conditions are met – the registered design application process can be accelerated using a fast track process. We have used this process with some clients to progress applications from filing to registration in less than one week. Even where the conditions for fast tracking an application are not met, it is often possible to obtain registered design protection in around four to six weeks from filing an application.

In Europe, applications for registered design protection are administered by the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM) which from March this year will be known as the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EU IPO), not to be confused with the European Patent Office (EPO), which, since the late 1970s has been responsible for examining applications for patents in Europe and a number of other territories.

While registered designs are directed towards non-functional developments in the appearance of products, patents provide protection for new and non-obvious inventions and are directed to new products and processes. Once granted, a patent gives its holder the right to prevent others from exploiting an invention in a particular country.

In the case of both registered designs and patents, the term development is key here, as while many companies know to seek protection for their “next big thing”, it is often the case that protection may also be possible for more modest but nevertheless commercially useful iterations of existing designs, products and processes which can sometimes be overlooked.

Patent Attorneys like myself typically work with clients – whether multi-nationals, SMEs or individuals – to determine how best to protect their IP, with a view to maximising the opportunities for useful protection. This may involve preparing and filing patent applications and registered design applications and liaising with the patent and IP offices around the world to progress applications to grant.

At a basic level, obtaining IP protection provides recognition for companies as well as individual designers and inventors within those companies. Just as important, however, IP protection provides a commercial tool for differentiating a company from their competitors and offering the opportunity to generate income through licensing.

Thus, while some New Year resolutions may have been quietly forgotten, a good resolution for the new financial year would be to arrange an IP audit or review. In many cases, this review simply involves a discussion of current products and processes. Where there are patents, trade marks, or registered designs already in place, the review can establish whether they still cover your current activities and also whether there are any opportunities to strengthen or adapt your rights to put them on a better footing. A more detailed review may also involve looking at competitors’ activities, for example to form a view of the patent landscape, and to assess threats as well as opportunities.

As part of the year of Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, a number of free InnovationNation lectures are taking place in Edinburgh’s EICC, the first of which is due to take place on 16 February focussing on Architecture while the second on 12 April focusses on Biotechnology; a good indication of the wide range of creativity and innovation taking place.