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Intellectual Property: The Common Mistakes for UK business owners

Protecting your intellectual property (IP) can be crucial to the success of a business. IP can cover a wide range of business assets and creations, including names, logos, product designs and inventions. However, many businesses continue to make mistakes when it comes to their IP.

In this article, we explore some of the most common mistakes and how to avoid them.

  1. Not registering your rights

Businesses commonly fail to register rights, which is a critical mistake. Without registered IP rights, you have limited legal protection for your brand and products, which means others may copy without your permission, sometimes leaving you with little legal recourse.

For example, registering trade marks is an essential requirement for brand protection and preventing others from using a similar mark or name. It is especially important to register your trade mark in the UK as the UK operates a “first to file” principle. This means that the first person to register a mark can have better rights than the first person to use it. Therefore, it’s important to apply for registration as soon as possible to avoid losing out on your rights.

  1. Not registering your rights correctly

It is important that when applying to register your rights you do so correctly. The processes for registering trade marks, designs and patents are littered with pitfalls that could seriously limit the scope of such rights once granted, or even render them invalid and unenforceable.

For example, when registering a trade mark it is essential to be as specific as possible when it comes to the goods and services that the mark will be used for. Registering your mark for a broad range of goods and services may seem like a good idea, as it would appear to offer greater protection, but it can leave your registration vulnerable.

If over time you do not use your mark for certain goods or services, or they are too general, someone could challenge the validity of your registration. Therefore, it’s important to consider carefully the scope of your registration and ensure that it reflects the goods and services in use accurately.

Another common mistake is businesses registering IP rights in the name of an employee or shareholder, rather than the business itself. This may seem minor, but it can cause significant problems when the employee or shareholder leaves the business, because they may claim entitlement for their own purposes or seek to sell them to a third party.

This would be a big concern for any potential buyer or investor, as the business would not own the IP. Therefore, it’s important to ensure all IP rights are registered in the name of the business, rather than individuals associated with it. We discussed other key areas of IP that buyers and/or investors will look for in our previous article.

  1. Rights in commissioned works

Businesses also frequently make the mistake of assuming they automatically own copyrights in works they commission from third parties, such as designers, photographers, writers etc. However, under UK law, the creator owns the copyright unless they expressly assign it to the business.

This means the right to do things with website designs, logo designs, photographs, artwork, and marketing materials created by third parties may be unclear unless the rights are transferred, or the terms of use are properly agreed. If they are not, then the third party could object to their use at any time.

It is important to have an express agreement in place for transfer of the rights in commissioned works or the licence to use them before any work begins.

  1. Disclosing inventions and/or designs to the public

It is important to be careful when disclosing information about your inventions or product designs before you have registered a patent or registered design. If you disclose the information before registering your IP rights, you may lose your ability to obtain protection for them.

This is because patents and registered designs are granted to inventors and designers who can demonstrate that their invention or design is new. If you publicly disclose your invention or design before filing a patent or design application, you may not be able to register it.

The bar for such a disclosure is low and inadvertent disclosures can occur in several ways, such as social media, conversations with colleagues or friends, or public presentations. It is important for business to exercise caution and have a clear understanding of what constitutes a disclosure to the public and when.

To avoid inadvertent disclosures, business should take measures to keep their inventions and designs confidential. A key way to achieve this is to ensure that you have sufficient Non-Disclosure Agreements in place before sharing any information relating to any invention or design.

  1. Joint ventures, Partnerships and the difficulties of joint ownership.

When it comes to joint ventures and partnerships, it’s essential to agree on the ownership of IP at the outset of the relationship. This can help to avoid disputes down the line, particularly if the venture or partnership is successful.

However, joint ownership of IP can be complicated, as it requires both parties to work together to make decisions about how the IP is used and managed. This can be particularly challenging if the parties have different priorities or ideas about how the IP should be used. Parties should also be careful to retain ownership of any IP that was created prior to the new relationship.

Therefore, it’s important to consider the possibility of joint ownership carefully and to have a clear agreement in place that outlines how the IP will be managed and who will make decisions about its use. It’s also essential to seek legal advice to ensure that the agreement is fair and legally enforceable.

Conclusion

Protecting your intellectual property is crucial for any UK business. By avoiding these common mistakes, you help to ensure your IP is fully protected and you can reap the benefits of your hard work and creativity. Remember to seek legal advice whenever you are uncertain about the best way to protect your IP, and always be proactive when it comes to safeguarding your business assets.

We have a team of dedicated lawyers and attorneys who work closely with our clients to ensure the strongest possible IP protection. If you have any concerns about any of the issues raised above or would like some more information about how you can protect your IP, we’d be delighted to guide you through the process. Please contact Senior Associate Paul Taylor and Head of Intellectual Property Simon Barker.


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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