PROTECTING your intellectual property (IP) is crucial to the success of your business. No matter what profession you are in, you need to ensure that your originality is safeguarded from theft by utilising the four main IP rights that exist to help defend your intellectual property: patents, trademarks, design rights and copyright.
As an inventor, I know just how important it is to protect your IP. I made my fortune from patents that I took out in the 1990s, using them to protect the technology that made my invention, the Anywayup® cup, unique. It hasn’t been easy; I had to fight a “David and Goliath” legal battle to enforce my rights against a major corporation who copied my idea. But my patents were strong and I won. If nothing else, this really emphasises how essential it is to protect your IP. Without patents I would have been powerless and penniless.
When protecting your IP, the first thing you need to do is identify which of the four main IP rights is appropriate for your creation. For me it was patents. Patents protect how something works (i.e. a new technology). They give you the right to stop others from copying, manufacturing and selling your invention without your permission, but they are not suitable for everything. If you are an artist or author, for example, then a patent is unlikely to be the right form of protection. Copyright would be far more suitable as this protects written, musical, theatrical and artistic works. Often multiple rights are appropriate. For example, I have patents, trade marks, 3D shape trade marks and design registrations on the Anywayup® cup. It is really important to research IP rights to identify which will work best for you – the UKIPO website (www.ipo.gov.uk) can help.
The Business and IP Centre at the British Library (www.ipo.gov.uk) is a great place to start your project. They guide you through the whole process and equip you with all necessary skills, including searching the databases to check your idea is original.
Applying for a patent can be costly and complicated, so only go down that road if you are confident your idea will make money. It is advisable to use a chartered patent agent (www.cipa.org.uk) to accompany you through the process, as if you draft your patent yourself it probably won’t stand up to a challenge. Remember that overseas patents will be essential if you plan to export or attract licensees.
What many people do not realise is that once a patent is granted it does not necessarily mean that it is valid. The patent system relies on challenges by third parties to establish validity – this usually occurs as part of infringement proceedings in court. It is up to the owner of the patent to enforce it at their own cost. Sounds scary, but if you have an inventive idea with commercial potential, this should not deter you from patenting it. If someone does infringe your rights, there are now alternative ways in which to settle the dispute, e.g. by mediation, or in the low cost Patents County Court. In addition, the government has just announced that it is introducing a special small claims service for IP cases. So, even if your rights are infringed, as long as you have gone through the proper channels to obtain your patent you should be able to protect your IP.
Mandy Haberman is a British inventor and entrepreneur. She is the inventor of the Haberman® Feeder and Anywayup® Cup, of which the latter has had phenomenal worldwide success. www.mandyhaberman.com