Business 26.04.23

World Intellectual Property Day: What is it and why is it important?

World Intellectual Property (IP) Day is celebrated every year on 26 April, and this global campaign offers a unique opportunity to join with others around the globe to celebrate inventors and creators. It also allows us to explore how IP contributes to a thriving life sciences industry, as well as driving the technological innovation that helps shape our world. But what is IP, and how important is it for start-ups? Sarah Chittock and Megan Rannard from international patent attorney, Marks & Clerk explain.

What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual Property (IP) is the term used for creations of the mind, such as inventions, designs and works of art. These creations are protected in law by IP rights such as patents, trade marks and design rights, which allow the owners to earn recognition and money for their work.

Intellectual Property (IP) is the term used for creations of the mind, such as inventions, designs and works of art. These creations are protected in law by IP rights such as patents, trade marks and design rights, which allow the owners to earn recognition and money for their work.

Patents protect novel inventions. They can only be renewed for up to 20 years, after which time the invention becomes part of the public domain and anyone can make, use or sell it.

Trade marks protect signs that are used in commerce to distinguish the products and services of one business from another. They come in many different forms – not only can words, logos and slogans be trade marks, but also colours, shapes and sounds. A valid registered trade mark can be renewed indefinitely.

Copyright, as the name suggests, is an IP right to prevent copying. Copyright arises automatically whenever an eligible original work is created, and there is no register of copyright works in the UK. The duration of copyright depends on the type of work – for example, copyright in the text of a book will usually last for 70 years after the death of the author.

Different types of IP rights can be used in combination to form powerful, layered protection for a creator’s IP – for example, a new product or its parts could be protected simultaneously by patents, trade marks, designs and copyright. As a start-up, a useful first step is to identify all of your IP and determine what types of registered protection you may need.

IP is most commonly protected by formal registration at jurisdictional Offices, in the form of patents, designs and trade marks. As a start-up, it is important to prioritise core IP assets for protection in the short term that will provide the most valuable portfolio, taking into account filing costs and timescales for registration. Specialist attorneys can help identify the most useful and cost effective protection strategies, allowing start-ups to exploit their IP to its fullest potential.  

Unregistered rights also may exist (subject to differing regulations under local practices) and can arise automatically upon the creation of some IP. Formal registration is not required for protection of these rights, although it is advisable to keep detailed records regarding creation, authorship and ownership for enforcement purposes. In the UK, unregistered rights include copyright, unregistered trade marks, unregistered designs, and trade secrets. 

Why is Intellectual Property important?

If IP has not been adequately protected, a start-up could face any number of serious issues during its lifetime:

Exit Strategy: Founders will be looking to a future exit from the very beginning of their start-up journey, and the financial rewards of that exit will be closely tied to the IP and rights that they have secured along the way. You do not want your company’s value to ultimately be determined on the basis of unsecured business know-how and trade secrets.

Protect your work: Without adequate IP rights in place, it can be very difficult to prevent competitors from copying your work and infringing your rights. It is also usually not advisable to rely on unregistered IP rights alone – only certain type of IP enjoy a degree of unregistered protection, and it can be more challenging to enforce this type of right.

No second chances: All businesses must think about their IP protection strategy from day one. Trying to secure IP rights retrospectively can be difficult, expensive, and sometimes simply impossible. It is important to ensure that crucial IP assets are not disclosed before appropriate protection strategies are put in place to avoid the risk that such disclosure may void the registrability of rights such as patents and designs. Early disclosure of new branding ideas, or expansion into a new territory without a corresponding trade mark application/registration and early filing date, can also risk third party imitation applications in bad faith that can be an obstacle to registration by the legitimate brand owner and an infringement risk in some cases.

Robert Lind, a Partner and Patent Attorney at Marks & Clerk has written an e-book for start-ups that expands on these potential pitfalls and explores IP strategies, expansion and exploitation.

Marks & Clerk set up its first office in the UK in 1887. Today, it’s a leading global intellectual property firm, working in partnership with businesses of all shapes and sizes all over the world to provide attorneys whose legal, technical and commercial expertise exactly meets their needs. Shaping its services around them, they protect, enforce and maximise the value of their intellectual property to support them in achieving their business ambitions.

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