Copyright protects a range of creative and artistic works like films, music and books. A trade mark will protect things like your company logo and branding as well as things like colours, sounds and shapes. So long as you can physically write it down and it’s distinctive enough you can protect it with a trade mark. A patent is designed to protect a specific invention by patenting the way they work, what they do and how they’re made.
When it comes to the world of business it’s essential that businesses copyright things like databases, customer lists and any other unique information. One area this can often cause a problem is if you’ve employed a third party or a subcontractor to design and build a website. Legally speaking that third party will own the content of your website unless you’ve acquired it by assignment. In most cases the contract will simply state you’ve paid someone to create you a website, you need to be sure your contract states that once the project is complete you now own that website as your own property. The length of the copyright will always depend on the specifics. For example the copyright on something like a novel would be the life of the author with an additional 70 years after their death. With copyright on something like a performance (where the performer didn’t actually own the writing or music used) lasts 50 years from the date of that first performance.
If you’re a business trying to protecting your own software you can copyright the code you’re written that makes up that software. That code will then be treated as a literary piece of work. This does mean that you can’t protect the actual way the software works; you’ve only protected original code. The only way you can protect the actual functionality of the software is through a patent but this can be very complex.
In order to register a trade mark you have to register it with the intellectual property office through filling out a series of paperwork. You do have to bear in mind that once you’ve filled your application you cannot make any changes or amendments. The Intellectual Property Office will check to make sure your mark is distinctive and that it doesn’t clash with any other previously protected trade marks. This first step can generally take anywhere up to three months. Once it’s gone through the first stage it’s then published for anyone else to see it and comment. These rules only apply in the UK and different rules apply if you want to protect your trade mark across Europe and the rest of the world.
A trade mark will last for ten years after which you can apply to renew it as often as you like but if you don’t use your trade mark for more than five years anyone else is entitled to apply to have that trade mark taken off you.
When it comes to applying for patent protection it’s all done in writing, you cannot send an example of your work off you can simply write it down. This means it not only has to be legal but also technically accurate and as detailed as possible. The patent is covering this writing not the actual invention itself. This does mean you don’t need to prove your invention works to file a patent application. Patent protection can be quite costly by the end of it especially if you want this patent to be legal world wide. The maximum term a patent can last is twenty years from when you send your first application in.
About the Author: Jessica works for company law specialist, Bennett Griffin