Intellectual property can be a difficult concept to understand. In it simplest state people understand how a physical product can be patented to ensure that others do not copy its design. However it often becomes more complex when you are trying to protect an idea, a range, brand or piece of software from the public.
International law now has methods of protecting those with bright ideas. The 1967 convention that established the World Intellectual Property Organisation argues that intellectual property protection "shall include rights relating to:
- literary, artistic and scientific works
- performances, phonograms, broadcasts etc
- inventions in all fields of human endeavor
- scientific discoveries
- industrial designs
- service marks, commercial names, designations and trademarks
- protection against unfair competition and it also enforces all other IP rights resulting from the industrial, scientific, artist or literary activities."
There are several legal avenues to follow, depending on what type of intellectual property you are trying to protect. Copyright can also apply to art work, books and scientific publications; and to performances from artists, phonograms and broadcasts.
Copyright protection is also used in business situations when the intellectual property to be protected might be something such as a trademarks or brand name, which has value in transmitting information to consumers. Another method of doing this is to use trademarking to protect the brand wording.
Intellectual property as a concept can apply equally to new inventions as to new designs. If an invention is clearly unique, or takes known technology a stage further, then it may be possible to use patent law as a route to protect the invention from being copied in the future. As an example, James Dyson's concept for a better vacuum cleaner, using cyclonic technology, has been protected by the registering of patents; these have enabled Dyson to defend its concept against other vacuum cleaner companies who tried to copy the technology and introduce similar machines of their own.
An early consultation with an IP lawyer will establish the best way to protect your idea or concept against being copied by others. The fact that you will have sought protection, before showcasing your idea to the wider market, will give others who believe they were working on the same idea/project the opportunity to come forward.