When a business is establishing its presence in the marketplace, protecting and managing its intellectual property (IP) is critical, as it can mean the difference between success or failure. That is why it is important for businesses to understand the different types of IP they own and to take steps to protect them.

What is IP?

There is no precise definition of ‘intellectual property’, but it can be described as a basket of rights, divided into trade marks, patents, designs, copyright, database rights, and confidential information, which are further explained below.

  • Trade Mark – A trade mark identifies goods or services as those produced or provided by a specific person or enterprise. A trade mark can be registered in Ireland and in Europe) for 10 years and it can be renewed indefinitely on payment of renewal fees.
  • Patent – This gives an inventor the exclusive right, for a limited period, to prevent others from using his or her invention without permission. An invention is patentable if it is novel, capable of industrial application and involves an inventive step. A full term patent is registered for 20 years. In Ireland, it is also possible to register a short term patent for 10 years.
  • Design – A design can be registered if it is new and has individual character. A design can be registered in Ireland or in Europe for a period of five years and then renewed, for periods of five years, to a maximum period of 25 years. In addition, there is an unregistered Community Design Right which lasts for three years from the date on which the design was first made available to the public within the European Union.
  • Copyright – This is the right to prevent copying (and certain other acts) in relation to works that qualify for protection. Copyright can subsist in original literary, musical, artistic and dramatic works as well as original databases, sound recordings, films, broadcasts, cable programmes and typographical arrangements of published editions. The duration of protection will vary depending on the work.
  • Database rights – A database is protected where there has been a substantial investment in obtaining, verifying or presenting the contents of the database. The duration of this right is 15 years from the end of the calendar year in which the making of the database was completed or it was first re-utilised.
  • Confidential Information – This can be the most valuable asset of a business. Confidential information or trade secrets can relate to any subject matter and be stored in any form. Examples include a business strategy or customer list. The legal regime for the protection of trade secrets in Ireland has been strengthened by the European Union (Protection of Trade Secrets) Regulations 2018 (SI 188/2018) which gives effect to EU Trade Secrets Directive (EU 2016/943).

In addition, trade secrets will continue to be protected under Irish law through either express or implied contractual obligations or the law on breach of confidence and misuse of confidential information.

It is often through lack of awareness that IP rights are not identified and protected. It is therefore extremely important that businesses ensure that these assets are not only protected but also that they own them. Failure to do so can have serious and financial repercussions for businesses. It is never too late for businesses to review and protect their IP rights.