They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but not when it crosses over into copyright infringement. 

Fortunately, there are safeguards in place to protect original creations. In the UK, that safeguard comes in the form of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988). It protects intellectual property from direct imitations, so nobody can rip off your original ideas. 

Let’s talk about the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. 

Specifically, we’ll be discussing:

  • What is intellectual property?
  • What is protected under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act?
  • How long does the protection last?
  • How do I register for protection?

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property is any kind of original creations. It can refer to designs, inventions, brand names, slogans, and literary work. 

Intellectual property is a special kind of asset called an “intangible asset”, as opposed to physical assets like stock and equipment. They may not be physical things, but they still add value to your business like any other asset. 

Original ideas don’t count as intellectual property on their own. Instead, it’s something you create as a result of the original idea, like an invention, brand name, or design. 

To prevent intellectual property from being stolen or ripped off, it’s protected under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988).

It’s important for small businesses that are built around a unique intellectual property, because it prevents imitators from sweeping in and stealing a share of the market. 

For businesses that aren’t built around an IP, it’s still important to understand the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, to make sure they’re not accidentally ripping off somebody else’s idea.

What is protected under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act?

As a creator, you have the right to control the ways your IP is used. Others can use the same idea, but the actual content that’s produced can’t be copied. For example, anybody can write a book about Boris Johnson; it’s the actual words, and the order you’ve put them in, that are protected. 

If you created something unique for a company that’s employed you, then the company usually owns the rights to the IP. But if you’re freelance, you normally own the rights to original work unless there is a specific agreement that says otherwise. 

Regarding the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, it’s the owner of the intellectual property that can take legal action against copyright infringement. 

These kinds of intellectual properties are automatically protected under the act:

  • Literary work – Song lyrics, manuscripts, manuals, computer programs, commercial documents, leaflets, newsletters and articles etc.
  • Dramatic work – Plays, dance, etc.
  • Musical work – Recordings and musical score.
  • Artistic work – Photographs, paintings, architecture, technical drawings/diagrams, maps, logos, etc.
  • Specific arrangements of published work – Magazines, periodicals, etc.
  • Sound recordings – recordings of works, e.g. musical and literary.
  • Films – Broadcasts and cable programmes.

Other kinds of intellectual properties like slogans, logos, and inventions aren’t automatically protected. So you’ll need to register them with HMRC as registered designs, trademarks, or patents. There’s more on that in the next section. 

How do I register for protection?

You can register your intellectual property through HMRC. It’s worth knowing that you might need to register different parts of your product in different ways. 

For example, if you invent a completely new product::

  • The name or logo will need to be registered as a trademark.
  • The appearance will need to be registered as a design. 
  • The technology itself will need to be registered as a patent.
  • The images or text around the product will be protected from copyright infringement. 

Copyright

Everything we’ve mentioned in the previous section is covered automatically against theft. As long as there’s a record of you doing it first, nobody else is allowed to claim it as their own. To be safe, a lot of creators mark their work with a copyright symbol, a name, and a creation date. 

For small businesses, web pages and unique images are covered. It’s important to remember this goes both ways, so be careful when using images or content you find on the internet. 

Some sites like Pixabay, Unsplash, and Istock offer copyright free images that anybody can use. It’s also a general rule that stats and surveys are fair game, but it’s always best to double check. 

Trade marks

You can apply to register a trademark to protect specific words, images, and slogans. For small businesses, it’s useful for protecting your unique brand. It has to be unique, so you should make sure it’s not already being used. You can search registered trademarks on the HMRC website. 

Once you’re sure it’s original, you can apply to register a trademark with HMRC. It usually takes about 4 months to complete the process and costs £200. A registered trademark will last for 10 years. 

Trademarks can’t be vague or misleading, and can’t be a direct copy of the thing it’s selling. For example, you can’t register a new kind of software as “software”. 

Registered designs

You can register an original design through HMRC. Design includes its appearance, shape, decoration, or how its put together. 

You should check it’s an original design through HMRC first, then it’ll cost £50 per design. 

Patents

Patents protect new inventions and how they work. You’ll only be granted a patent if your invention is new; not just a slightly different version of something that already exists. 

Applying for a patent through HMRC is an 8 step process that costs about £4,000 and usually takes around 5 years. It can be a complicated process, so it’s usually a good idea to work with a patent attorney or advisor. 

Again, you should check if a similar patent already exists on the HMRC website. 

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