If all or part of a business lies in its intellectual property (IP), it will be particularly important to ensure there is clear evidence of its ownership or entitlement to use such IP. Any assignment of IP to the business should be properly documented in writing.
Most people are unaware that if they use a third party to create IP for them (for example, developing source code or creating a brand, logo or website), the third party will own any IP developed or created unless expressly agreed otherwise (even if you commissioned and paid for that IP).
It is vital that the terms around IP ownership and use are agreed upfront, and (preferably) recorded in a written agreement with that third party. Failure to do so may leave your business exposed.
In Northern Ireland, there are two main types of IP 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.
These are granted on application to an official body such as the UK Intellectual Property Office. Key registered rights include:
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
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.
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 is already out there.