Build a Business 6: How Can I Protect My Ideas?

Intellectual property and how to protect it was the basis for the sixth Building a Business lecture at Said Business School.  Robert Anderson, a copyright lawyer from London, explained the importance of IP and how it has changed over the last 100 years. 

Assets are now much more intangible than in the past, necessitating the use of trademarks.  Trademarks were originally used as indicators of origin, and now are most useful in established businesses, where it can be enforced.  But even if an asset or name is not trademarked, if it is a well-known or recognizable brand, the law will still protect it against unfair or detrimental use – or the law of passing off.  This means that misrepresentation of a product, based on origin or quality of the goods, can be cause for the passing off law.

Anderson also discussed copyright, which protects literary, artistic, dramatic or typographical works for up to 70 years after the owner’s death.  But he noted that copyright protects designs, but not products, and although you do not need to register a copyright, it should be recorded in writing.  He used an example of Sherlock Holmes, which is no longer copyrighted; anyone (in the UK) can write a Sherlock Holmes book as the copyright is no longer valid.

Patents were another area explained in this lecture.  Patents protect inventions which are new at the priority date, involve an inventive step or are capable of industrial application.  What was really interesting is the type of things which cannot be patented: computer programs, or things like Amazon’s 1-click process (this is a business improvement).  Patent protection can last forever (e.g. Coca-Cola, but is lost if the information enters the public domain.

Take home message?  Make sure you get the best legal advice possible as early as possible, in order to have as much protection for your IP as possible.  Protect your position, and make sure you trust who you talk to.  

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