Northern Ireland has very strict intellectual property laws, which fall into line with the wider UK intellectual property regime. These protect the names, ideas, products, designs and written word of businesses. In Northern Ireland, there are two main types of IP rights:
Unregistered Rights, arise automatically, and include:
Protects original artistic expressions such as literary, artistic works or software code. Copyright subsists for the author’s life and usually for 70 years after their death.
- Unregistered Design Rights
Protects the appearance of a functional product based on certain designs for 10 years after products based on that design were first sold, or 15 years after the design was created, whichever is the lesser period.
- Goodwill or “Unregistered Trade Marks”
Where a business has acquired “goodwill” in a brand from trading under that brand, it may have acquired unregistered trade mark rights.
Registered Rights, these are granted on application to an official body such as the UK Intellectual Property Office. Key registered rights include:
- Patents (time to allow for application: up to 5 years)
A registered patent grants the owner the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention, industrially applicable process or device based on the patent for 20 years from the filing date.
- Registered Trade Mark (time to allow for application: 4 months)
A registered trade mark gives the owner the right to the exclusive use of the mark in connection with the goods or services for which it is registered. The same trade mark may be registered for different classes of goods or services.
- Registered Designs (time to allow for application: 1 month)
A registered design gives the owner the right to exclusive protection for its design, and can last for 25 years. The design is protected across all sectors and is not limited to the product to which it was originally applied.
Before you start filing for patents, trade marks and designs, it will be important for you to research what has already been registered.
An advantage for Northern Ireland is the Commercial Court, a division of the High Court in Northern Ireland, which deals with commercial disputes, including IP disputes of significant value. A party can apply to have a case listed in the Commercial Court. The advantage of the Commercial Court is that its cases are regularly reviewed by the Commercial Judge who will case manage the litigation with a view to progressing all cases as expeditiously as possible. The Courts in Northern Ireland are becoming increasingly focused on early implementation of forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution such as Mediation.