Intellectual property law basics

While intellectual property can be a valuable business asset for business owners, it must be legally protected if a business owner wants to increase the value of their business.

Intellectual property can add further value to a business when it is sold. Intellectual property is the collection of ideas and creations of your mind or intellect such as trademarks, logos, concepts, designs, computer programs and so on. Most businesses will have some form of intellectual property that derives commercial value.

There are several types of legal ownership available depending on the nature of the intellectual property. The most commonly used types are trademarks, patents, design rights, domain names and copyright.

A trademark is a right granted to a sign or device used by a business to distinguish its goods and services from other businesses. They can take the form of a letter, number, word, phrase, sound, smell, shape, logo or picture.

Although it is not compulsory to register a trademark, registering provides exclusive rights to use the trademark across Australia for commercial purposes and assign, transfer or sell the rights to the trademark to another business.

Trademarks can protect businesses against imitation since they can use the trademark to identify with a particular product or service. However, owners should be aware that even though trademarks offer a greater degree of protection, trademark breaches are not enforced by the Trademark authority; rather they must be pursued by the trademark holder.

Design rights
A design can refer to the features of a shape, configuration or pattern that gives a product its unique appearance. Examples of a design include a logo, branding, packaging and so on. A registered design gives the owner exclusive rights to commercially use, sell or licence it.

A patent is a right granted for any device, substance, method or process which is new, innovative and useful. If you have developed a new product or process, you may consider applying for a patent.

There are two types of patents in Australia; the “standard” patent provides long-term protection for 20 years or more and the “innovation” patent lasts for up to eight years and applies to innovations that would not qualify for a standard patent.

Patents only provide protection within Australia. However, you can make a separate application in each country or file a single international application and select the countries in which you wish for protection.

If you are considering applying for a patent be wary not to disclose or promote your idea to anyone without first applying for a patent, otherwise you may risk your chances of registration.

Copyright is a free and automatic legal right applied to any original work such as art, literature, music, films and so forth. Copyrights do not have to be registered for ownership. You cannot copyright ideas, the works must be tangible.

Domain names
A domain name is your website address on the internet. It helps to form your business’s identity and allows your customers to find your business online. To register a domain name it must be unique and not already registered as a business name or company, or a registered or pending trademark.

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