How do I protect my business ideas?

Most businesses in the creative industries involve generating ideas and products. The law does not protect ideas themselves, but it can protect some of the tangible expressions of these ideas through intellectual property rights. There are four main intellectual property rights:

Copyright – this protects original literary, musical, dramatic and artistic works, sound recordings, films and broadcasts without any registration requirement

Design rights – these can be both registered and unregistered and protect the shape and configuration of objects and 2D designs for a time-limited period

There are also certain other affiliated rights, such as rights in databases, confidential information and personality.

Why is intellectual property useful for my business?

Intellectual property rights can be useful for your business because ownership of these rights allows you to benefit from the economic and moral rights attached to these, such as the right to receive royalties for licensed use, the right to prevent another party using the same rights, the right to be attributed as the owner of these rights and the right to object to certain uses of your rights. The extent of protection varies depending on the intellectual property right.

If your business is based on your independent creative efforts, and those of your employees, then intellectual property rights will form much of the value of your business. So making sure you have protected your IP will add value to your business, which may help you raise capital, or secure loans or expand into new markets.

How do I go about securing intellectual property rights?

Copyright arises automatically when you create specified types of original works (created using your independent creative efforts). Copyright belongs to the original author of the work unless assigned or licensed. Keeping accurate records of the time, place and date of the creation of the original work, and contracts recording any permitted use of the works by a non-author can help secure IP protection. Using the © symbol can also signal to potential users that you intend to enforce your copyright.

For patents, trademarks and registered designs you must apply for registration in order to qualify for full protection. In the UK, you must register with the Intellectual Property Office, and if you want protection in other countries you must register with the relevant body.

Whenever you are entering a contract, whether a contract about your business ideas and products, or a contract to employ someone or their services, you should always consider how intellectual property rights will be affected by the contract.

There are certain exemptions which may allow third parties to use your work or similar work, so you should always consult a professional for advice on your specific intellectual property rights.

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