Intellectual property issues are very much on the agenda for the government at the moment. Steps are being taken to implement Professor Hargreaves’ 2011 independent review of IP and growth. The Enterprise Regulatory Reform Bill has recently received Royal assent; it contains provisions intended to haul the copyright regime into the 21st century and this may help numerous small businesses.
Now is a good time for enterprises of all kinds to review and understand what IP they own and make the best commercial use of it.
Depending on what they do, organisations and individuals with reputations for creativity may own IP of several different kinds. The main examples are:
Patents – protecting an invention with commercial application for 20 years,
Trade Marks – unique brand indicators which distinguish the goods and services of one trader from those of another,
Design Rights – representations of the specific shapes, styles, contours and other visible features of aesthetic and functional designs,
Copyright – automatic rights relating to original words, photographs, formats, layouts, databases and software
Since design rights, trade marks and copyright may exist without any registration process and arise through the process of creation and development, it is not always obvious what IP is owned. As with any other assets of value, an audit or inventory can be taken of IP using expert assistance. An IP audit may:-
- Show what IP you have
- Show what IP you are missing
- Look at IP in specific territories
- Highlight weak or indefensible IP
- Show up risks of infringement or loss of IP generally.
An IP audit identifies IP which may exist and assesses who is entitled to own it (the answer may not be obvious!). It also helps demonstrate the weaknesses in the IP portfolio and restrictions such as joint or third party rights that will hamper the ability to exploit IP for commercial gain.
IP is a minefield of sometimes inconsistent and overlapping rights. The rights themselves have wide but not universal scope. There are complex provisions regarding ownership and entitlement. It is always wise to investigate what IP you own and take advice at an early stage.