What is Intellectual Property?
Intellectual property is something unique that you physically create. An idea alone is not intellectual property (IP), but once that idea has progressed into something tangible it can be considered as IP. For example, an idea for a book doesn’t count, but the words you’ve written do.
The foundation of many innovative business will rely on IP, so it helps to know a bit about ownership and the different options to protect it.
Owning intellectual property
You own intellectual property if you:
bought intellectual property rights from the creator or a previous owner
have a brand that could be a trade mark, eg a well-known product name
Intellectual property can:
have more than one owner - particularly with discoveries made in research, the collaborative nature of projects means that inventions will have more than one owner.
belong to people or businesses - contractual agreements between employers and employees can assign any IP developed during your contract as belonging to that organisation
be sold or transferred
If you’re self-employed, you usually own the intellectual property even if your work was commissioned by someone else - unless your contract with them gives them the rights.
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Ownership in Research
By default in the UK, the inventor(s) own an invention. The inventor is the “actual deviser” of the invention or made an inventive contribution, with documented evidence of their role played as an inventor!
Somebody who contributed resources to the project and development such as lending equipment or being named on the grant would not be classed as an inventor.
When it comes to universities, PhD students are not classed as employees so what happens to the ownership of IP?
Depending on the institution, there are clauses assigning IP developed to the university. Additionally ideas often originate between a student and academic supervisor. Since the supervisor is employed by the university, the IP is owned by the university.
Postdocs are classed as employees and so, while it can vary with contract, the IP is owned by the university.
Having the right type of intellectual property protection helps you to stop people stealing or copying:
the names of your products or brands
the design or look of your products
things you write, make or produce
The type of protection you can get depends on what you’ve created. Some types of protection apply automatically, while others you have to formally apply for. The most common types of IP protection are:
Copyright - for creative work
Patents - for inventions
Design - for the visual appearance of products
Trade Marks - for brand protection
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Any one product might constitute a combination of all these things!
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These 4 are the main ways to protect IP. However there are some cases where formal applications don’t protect the idea as much as the inventors might like…
There’s another class of protection classified as ‘trade secrets’ or ‘know-how’. The terms of filing a patent mean that after the agreed exclusivity time-frame, the knowledge becomes publicly available and so anybody could use, make or sell your product or technology. For products such as Coca-Cola, their recipe is not patented to avoid the public availability of it. Instead it is kept under wraps as a trade secret, so that only those that need to know it will know it and there’s no formal release of the recipe to the world.
|Type of IP||Examples|
|Copyright||Writing and literary works, art, photography, films, TV, music, web content, sound recordings|
|Design Rights||Shapes of objects|
Protection requiring application
For IP that requires an application for protenction, the process can take varying amounts of time.
|Type of IP||Examples||Time allowed to apply|
|Trade marks||Product names, logos, jingles||4 months|
|Registered designs||Appearance of a product including, shape, packaging, patterns, colours, decoration||1 month|
|Patents||Inventions and products, eg machines and machine parts, tools, medicines||Around 5 years|
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