Anything that you create from your own intellect that can be legally owned is your intellectual property (IP). In business, or as an individual with an invention, new process, or creative work that you can profit from in some way, you want to ensure that your IP is protected in order to prevent others from taking advantage of it, profiting from what you created, and infringing upon your rights.
Your IP can hold a lot of value; for a business, it may be your most valuable asset! This is why many companies go to great lengths to secure their IP – and have a right to take any entity that tries to steal theirs to court.
National and international copyright laws exist in order to encourage innovation and to safeguard businesses, which require their IP to be protected in order to maintain a competitive edge. What exactly can be protected? How can you keep your IP safe in Australia and globally in order to stop other companies from taking advantage of your innovation, thus diluting its value to you, without your licence?
Types of IP
First, it’s important to understand what is protected and the different options that are available to you under intellectual property law.
Patents are used to protect a new process or an invention, safeguarding how something functions. New pharmaceutical medications and Post-it notes are examples protected by patents. The legal battle over who created the original Post-it notes is one of the more famous IP legal cases.
Trademarks are for the name of a brand or a logo, and can constitute any combination of numbers, letters, and shapes to identify the goods or services sold by one business over another. For example the Nike swoosh, or the brand name, Coles. You can also trademark a certain colour, sound, scent, or even how a product is packaged or branded.
A copyright is what is used for trade secrets, like a restaurant’s secret recipe. Creative works, like books, recorded music, film and television programs, and software programs can also be copyrighted.
Registered designs protect the visual appearance of a product. This differs from a patent, which protects the way something works, but not how it looks.
Less common, but essential for certain industries like the Australian wine industry – geographical indications are used to identify when a good has originated from a particular area.
Steps to Protecting Your IP
When you have identified your intellectual property, the first step is to ensure that it is kept confidential until it has been protected. Some companies choose to simply safeguard their intellectual property – which is what Coca-Cola has done with their ‘secret recipe.’ This also means that the trade secret is kept indefinitely – copyrights and patents only last for 20 years before the original creator is no longer the sole owner.
Next, register it with IP Australia. Before it is registered, other businesses or individuals can potentially steal your work and claim it as their own. If you haven’t registered your process, invention, or other piece of IP, then it may be difficult for you to prove that you are the legal owner in court.
Stay aware of any cases of infringement on your intellectual property. Infringement can take away from the owner’s market share, making it difficult for businesses to compete. For example, if a glass manufacturer has a patent for their glass making process, when a competitor uses the same process, then the two companies are producing an identical product. The company that spent millions developing the process now has lost its competitive edge.
How Much Does Registration Cost?
The costs will vary, depending on if you try to register on your own or hire a lawyer to help you. Also, the application fees for the different types of IP protection will vary. A copyright doesn’t have to be filed to go into effect. For example, once you write a story or record a song, it is technically your property. It is, however, helpful to have a work copyrighted if there is any concern over others stealing and using your work or trade secret.
Trademark can cost from $130 to $480 – per class of products or services, plus attorney fees, which may be around $1,000 for a straightforward application.
Patents, which are the most complicated in terms of registering, can cost between $5,000 and $8000, including attorney fees, plus annual maintenance fees.
What About International Protection?
Especially for smaller companies, it can be difficult to protect your IP outside of Australia. You will have to register in each country that you want protection in. Every country will have its own patent, copyright, and trademark laws, so make sure you are aware of what protection is offered once you register.
Trademarks can be filed through the Australian office, which then files with the other country.
Whether in Australia or abroad, registering your intellectual property as soon as you are ready is your best way to ensure that your IP is protected. An IP professional can help you fill out an application correctly and help you with any infringement issues.