Do not be afraid of the complicated term. Intellectual property comprises any non-physical work that a person creates. These creations originate directly from the brain. They can include artwork, written material, inventions, and software. Videos, music, and images can also fall into this category. People can access intellectual property with a book, document, computer screen, or another medium.
Everyone understands the need to protect physical property and how that can be damaged/stolen. With intellectual property, the work itself is not an object, so you can never actually touch it. The ideas contained in intellectual property can be reproduced on a large scale. A software program can be downloaded around the world and the story in a book can reach millions of readers.
The work found in intellectual property can be extremely valuable. For instance, an invention could hold the key to healing a medical condition. Software applications can make people’s lives more convenient. Stories and music can entertain millions. In short, intellectual property has the power to influence a lot of people.
The creators of intellectual property may work hard to help people with their creations. As such, they deserve to be rewarded for their efforts. If intellectual property is monetized, it is completely unfair for somebody to use it without paying for it. It is even worse if somebody steals intellectual property and then makes a profit from it.
Many businesses nowadays don’t make physical products. Whether they do or not, it is their brand and ideas that bring them success. These things may result from hard work and experimentation. If another firm can simply use these original ideas or branding to make money without any work, that is no different to stealing physical goods.
The internet has connected people like never before. Everyone can access countless websites and learning resources. The danger is, this has exposed people’s hard work and massively increased the chances of someone stealing it. In the spirit of fairness, regulations exist to prevent the widespread theft of intellectual property.
Some protection is guaranteed as soon as you create the intellectual property. This comes in the form of copyright. Copyright serves to prevent the unauthorized use of somebody’s work or to prevent people from presenting somebody’s work as theirs. This applies to photographs, videos, software and website content etc.
In the UK, no payment is necessary to copyright a piece of work (it is created by default). It is worth remembering, though, that copyright does not last forever and will eventually expire.
Other forms of intellectual property do require a formal application to protect them. The first kind is a trademark. If a phrase or logo is novel and accurately describes a business, it is possible to apply for a trademark to protect its identity. A slogan cannot have a trademark if it is too general (e.g. football shop) or if something too similar already has a trademark.
It will typically cost £200 to file a trademark application.
Another kind of intellectual property that needs protection is a patent. This is more complicated than copyright or trademarks. It has to be proven that a design or invention is new and not merely a modification of an existing product. It is not enough to have a future idea―you must be able to manufacture the device or tool at the time of applying.
The process of successfully owning a patent is lengthy. Each product is different, but it can take years and cost thousands of pounds in total.
Copyrights and trademarks give business owners a basis to pursue legal action if somebody has stolen their intellectual property. Even so, the enormity of the internet means that people will still try and steal work if they have the chance. You can take some steps to combat this.
If your business does need trademarks and patents, it is worth completing this paperwork early. The sooner this happens, the sooner your intellectual property is officially protected by law from theft.
It is not easy to know exactly which parts of a business need which kind of protection. Some products might need a mix of copyright, trademark, and patent. Hence, it is useful to consult a lawyer who is experienced in intellectual property law.
It is wise for a business to keep track of all its intellectual property. The internet, while problematic in a sense, can also help you to discover cases of theft. You can systematically search for logos, branding, texts, designs, and inventions to find out if anyone, anywhere is stealing from you.
If somebody is stealing content or ideas, there are a few possible routes to take. The easiest is to simply order them to stop their theft to avoid legal action. This may be enough. Sometimes, the owner of the intellectual property can ask whoever stole from them to buy a licence in order to continue using the material. A court case is the last option. This should only be considered if it is worth spending the time and money to resolve the matter.
The other side to this story is avoiding infringing upon the rules yourself. This is as important as protecting your intellectual property. If a business is caught stealing intellectual property, it can lose its reputation as well as a lot of money. This is true even if the theft was unintentional.
Just because you can access something on the internet does not mean that you have the right to use or modify it, especially for commercial purposes. You should always be suspicious if something seems too good to be true. Owners of intellectual property will often make the copyright law clear on their websites. Sometimes you will be free to use material, but not always.
The best practice is to contact the company or person who possesses the intellectual property and ask them to clarify its status.
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