Do I need to invest in intellectual property? Is there value in this right that requires the involvement of lawyers, part of my budget which could be used on product and packaging development or marketing campaigns? This is a question that businesses ask, and the answer is indeed complex. But bear in mind that, even if you are not thinking about protecting your IP, it is certainly on the minds of your competitors who are looking for ways to have a slice of your hard-earned cake.
So, what rights are available and how do they fit into my business?
Trademark registrations protect your name, or logo, or in some cases the shape of your product. They are cost effective and easy to register. Your trademark is there not only to attract customers to try your products but importantly to allow repeat purchases knowing that they can rely on the name to identify products of a certain quality coming from you, not your competitors. Registering your brand name as a trademark can be a powerful tool to block copycats in today’s ruthlessly competitive market. A registered trademark can not only help you to stop somebody from using an identical mark, but also a similar mark on products which compete with yours and are similar enough to confuse customers. A trademark registration can also be a useful tool in takedown procedures on social media, recovering a domain name, and preventing import of counterfeit products.
Choosing a trademark is a not an easy exercise but making the right choice can avoid difficulties when launching a new product and enforcing your rights in the future. Importantly, your mark should not be descriptive of your products, or similar to your competitor’s marks. A trademark which directly describes your product, or its characteristics will not be registrable. For example, FRESH ‘N’ JUICY is a bad choice for your fruit products. Invented words or those with no connection to your product are distinctive; a great example being the name of a fruit being used on electronic goods.
Although it may be tempting from a marketing perspective, adopting a mark similar to the market leader is a risky practice. Trademark searches can assess whether somebody else is using the mark you are interested in and instructing a clearance search prior to filing a trademark application or launching your product can save the expense of an opposition or infringement action.
Once you have chosen your new trademark, securing registration is relatively easy and inexpensive. At a cost of as little as £1,500 including attorney charges, a registration is money well spent for a legal right which prevents other people from trespassing on your brand and lasts for 10 years and is renewable indefinitely.
Registered designs also provide a valuable weapon in your arsenal when protecting visually new and unusually-shaped products or their packaging. Novel designs can be registered for only a few hundred pounds and last up to 25 years.
Although notoriously more expensive, patents also have a place in an IP portfolio. If you have designed new product packaging which has an innovative function, solved a technical problem, or devised a new manufacturing process, this could be protected by patents. A patent could give you the competitive edge to manufacture your product more efficiently while putting your competitors at a disadvantage. You could even license this technology to them for additional income.
In addition to registered rights, there are also unregistered rights which protect your IP. In the UK, if your product has a distinctive and well know appearance you may be able to prevent copycat products if your customers would believe that the copy originates from your business. Unregistered design rights also protect the shape and configuration of objects and provide protection from copying for 10 years after first sale. Copyright which enables you to prevent copying of your artistic and written material also arises automatically. So, if there is something new in your portfolio which needs protecting, why not register it?