You may think that intellectual property (IP) and especially patents are for tech giants and businesses that develop and manufacture physical products. You may even have heard that you cannot patent computer programmes – however, your business may already own some forms of IP and may even have developed patentable inventions that are worth protecting.
If you have been trading under a brand name and you have built a reputation around your brand, then your brand most likely already has unregistered trademark rights, which gives you limited protection against others who pass off their products or services as those you provide under your brand.
Such impersonators, whether intentional or unintentional, could cause financial damage to your business, or worse still, damage your brand’s reputation. However, relying on unregistered rights can be risky, as you will be required to prove first use of the brand name and to demonstrate the reputation of the brand name. A safer way to protect your brand is to register your brand name or company name as a trademark.
Design Rights and Product Patents
If you have developed a physical product, there is a good chance that your product is different in some ways from similar products around. The differences may be in the product itself, or they may be in the way it is made. If you have put in time, effort and money into product development, you may want to consider protecting the product or the manufacturing method against copycats.
For physical products, one quick and simple way of doing this is to register the design. Registered design rights protect the physical appearance of the product. For more comprehensive protection, a patent would cover the technical concept of the product and/or the manufacturing method.
If you have developed a new piece of software, you would want to protect it against unauthorised copying. An original piece of software (i.e. not a copy of another software) is automatically protected by copyright against direct copying and distribution. However, if your software is a little more than a time-killer while waiting for a bus, you may wish to consider if it can be patented. A patent not only offers protection against direct copying, it also protects the inventive concept behind the software to prevent others from developing their own version based on what it does.
Statutory law in the UK explicitly excludes computer programmes from patent protection as such. However, the exclusion applies only to the programme itself, not what it does. If there are unique technical aspects to your computer program, they could form the basis of a patent application.
If you are uncertain whether your business owns any IP, or wondering if you should seek protection for your brand, product, software or services, it may be worth having an IP audit conducted for your business. An IP audit is a comprehensive analysis on all aspects of your business with the aim to identify existing and potential IP rights, and government funding is often available to carry one out.
If you wish to discuss whether you can patent your physical or software product, or would like to find out more about IP audits, get in touch and arrange a conversation with me at Sussex Innovation in Falmer.
Olivia Tsang (42IP Ltd) has a doctorate in Physics and is a UK and European qualified patent attorney with over 13 years’ experience in the profession, specialising in software, AI and mechanical inventions.