Intellectual Property: how to protect your creations
Guest blogger, India Hyams, paralegal at Rocket Lawyer UK, shares some useful information and advice on how you can protect your intellectual property.
Creating something new and sharing it with others is a creatively fulfilling and commercially rewarding thing to do. Having somebody else then take your creation and use it without permission – less so. Therefore, as an artist or entrepreneur, it’s essential that you know how to protect your intellectual property in the UK.
What is intellectual property?
Intellectual property (or ‘IP’) refers to intangible assets that somebody has created by creativity or innovation. Things that can be IP include writings, inventions, music, images, computer programmes, product designs and more.
How can I protect my IP?
What you need to do to protect your IP depends on what kind of IP you are trying to protect.
A copyright is a legal protection for authors of (primarily) creative works. Copyrights arise automatically when a creative work is produced. There is no official registration process that needs to be followed. This means that, as soon as you make a creative work, other people are prohibited from copying or using it without permission.
It can still be wise to take steps to protect your copyright for evidentiary purposes i.e. to prove that you created the IP if there’s ever a dispute. You can consider depositing evidence of your creation with a bank or a solicitor. For more information, read Rocket Lawyer’s Quick Guide on Copyright.
Other types of IP
Trademarks are IP creations that are used to distinguish a particular business and its services i.e. its brand. Common examples are logos or slogans. Trademarks can be registered or unregistered. Unregistered trademarks arise automatically when you begin using the IP in connection with your business, but they can be harder to enforce than registered trademarks.
If you create a new, inventive product which is capable of industrial application, you may be able to apply for a patent to protect your invention. This is a complicated but thorough way of protecting your IP.
Design rights protect the look of a product. This is another kind of IP that arises automatically when you design a product. You can register your design rights to make them last longer or to protect them abroad.
Do I always own the IP that I create?
Contract law can complicate IP ownership. If you create something which gives rise to IP rights whilst working for somebody, your employer usually owns the IP unless your employment contract specifies otherwise.
If you’re working as a consultant (i.e. an independent contractor), your consultancy agreement will usually specify who owns any IP created during the arrangement. Your contract may even use IP as leverage to ensure you are paid for your work, eg by making the transfer of IP ownership from you to the customer contingent on them first paying you.
Works created on commission also bring up interesting IP issues. If you ask someone e.g. a photographer to create copyrighted work for you, they generally own the copyright unless your contract specifies otherwise.
Essentially, contract law can override the basic principles of IP law. So, to thoroughly protect your creations, you should be careful to check any contracts you enter into for provisions about IP. You can also ask to introduce IP-related provisions yourself.
What happens if somebody infringes my IP rights?
If somebody uses your IP without permission, or otherwise infringes your IP rights, there are various approaches you can take to enforce your rights. You can take legal action. You could also try using a cease and desist letter to try and remedy the situation without having to go to court or using the Intellectual Property Office’s (IPO’s) mediation service.
For more information, you can read Rocket Lawyer’s quick guides on Intellectual Property and remedies for intellectual property right infringement. You can use Rocket Lawyer’s ask a lawyer service if you have any questions about protecting your IP.
India Hyams is a paralegal at Rocket Lawyer UK. She graduated in 2021 with a Master of Arts in Law from the University of Law at Moorgate. As an undergraduate, she studied English Literature and Psychology at the University of Auckland and King's College London. She is fascinated by commercial law, and is passionate about environmental sustainability and about making legal assistance more accessible.