Whether you are a startup or an established business, protecting your brand is essential. Customers know and trust a business’ name and logo, and as you build your reputation, your unique packaging and design will attract new customers to try your products. Therefore, you want to do everything you can to ensure that other businesses do not copy your branding and steal your reputation and customer base.
Intellectual property protections can help you achieve this. In this article, we explain the concept of intellectual property and the protections that exist for your brand.
What is Intellectual Property?
The term ‘intellectual property’ refers to creations of the mind. Intellectual property is not tangible like your other business assets but is rather something creative that you designed or came up with for your business. For example, your logo is intellectual property, as you (or somebody you contracted) created it for your business. Other assets that constitute intellectual property may include:
- your business name;
- any unique inventions or processes you create;
- a business slogan, song, scent or distinctive colour;
- marketing material that you write for an advertisement;
- packaging for your products;
- and much more.
Different types of intellectual property will benefit from different types of protection. For example, you can protect an invention with a patent. On the other hand, you can protect your logo with a trade mark registration. We will explain the different protections below, and how you can benefit from each one.
While intellectual property is intangible, you can still exercise ownership over it. For example, you can sell your intellectual property, or license it to another business to use. For this reason, intellectual property is valuable to your business. You should take all of the necessary steps to protect it.
What Types of IP Protection Should I Use?
There are many different types of intellectual property protection. Patents, trade secrets and others may be relevant to your business. However, to protect your branding, trade marks, design registration and copyright will be the most relevant.
Trade marks are the type of intellectual property protection you are most likely to use when protecting your brand. Trade mark rights can protect any unique and distinguishing factors of your brand. For example, you can register a trade mark for your:
- branding colours;
- any word or number that you use to distinguish your business; and
- anything else that distinguishes your brand from competitors.
Your trade mark must be unique. For instance, it cannot be identical or confusingly similar to a trade mark that somebody else has already registered.
If you register a trade mark, you have the exclusive right to use, license or sell it. This gives your brand strong protection, as it prevents anyone else from using your brand without your permission.
You can register a trade mark through your local IP agency. Your trade mark protection will last for several years, and you can continue to renew it after that point. You do not need to register your trade mark, but it is highly recommended that you do so to enjoy all of the legal protections that come with registration.
You can use design registration to protect any unique design element in your branding. This will likely look like innovative packaging or a design element of your products that is unique to your business.
To be eligible for registration, your design must be:
- distinctive, so not similar or identical to any other registered design;
- unique, so not similar to any other design in the marketplace; and
- secret. You cannot publicly reveal your design before registering it.
Therefore, you must ensure that you do not reveal your design to the public before attempting to register it. For this reason, design registration will not be a good option for products or packaging you have already started selling.
Like trade marks, you can register a design with your local IP agency. Design registration gives you the exclusive right to use, license or sell your design for a fixed period of time, with the option to renew for a further period.
Copyright protection can protect the material expression of creative materials. This will include:
- literary works;
- and other creative works.
For your branding, this will likely look like marketing materials or any photographs or artwork that you have created for your brand.
It is important to note that copyright cannot protect the ideas behind your work. For example, if you create marketing material, copyright will protect the words in their written form. It cannot, however, prevent another business from writing marketing materials on the same topic. Additionally, copyright cannot protect anything that is not in material form. It cannot, for example, protect something you have thought of, but have not written down yet. In other words, copyright can protect the expression of an idea, but not the idea itself.
In some countries, copyright protection is automatic, giving you the exclusive right to use, license or sell your work for your entire lifetime plus seventy years. You do not need to register it with any agency - it arises automatically and applies from the moment you create your work.
You work hard to create a memorable brand, so it is important to ensure that others cannot steal your hard work and use it to their benefit. This is why intellectual property protections are so important. They can protect your brand and ensure that you are the only one with the legal right to use, license or sell it.