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Intellectual Property: How to Make Your IP Work For You

Image Credit: Olivier e Mol via iStock Photo

When you consider the number of things that could qualify as IP chances are you have a truckload of assets, lying in wait to be maximized. So what is Intellectual Property and how do they work? The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) defines Intellectual property (IP) as creations of the mind. This definition suggests that everything practically conceivable by your mind and created by you could qualify as IP. Well, it would be great if it ended here but there are intricacies to this gist. Generally, Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) are often divided into two main categories: Industrial Property & Copyright and related rights. While Industrial Property deals with IPRs like trademarks, trade secrets, patents, industrial designs, and geographical indications, Copyright and related rights cover literary, artistic and scientific works, including performances and broadcasts. So what do these sub-categories mean? (i) Trademark(™) is a distinguishing mark capable of telling your goods or services apart from your competitors. It could be words, letters, symbols, sounds, pictures, etc. To be accorded protection, registration is compulsory however to be eligible for registration it must be distinctive. This means that another idea of good old Nike swoosh would not be registered. It must be distinctive so that it cannot be mistaken for another brand. (ii) Trade Secrets as the name suggests is a secret about your trade that gives it a competitive advantage. It could exist as a formula, device, pattern e.t.c Remember Krabby Patty's secret formula bottle from SpongeBob? His infamous formula bottle can be taken as an example of a Trade Secret. Coca-Cola is also an example of a brand that employs Trade Secret. The Coke formula has been kept for over a century. (iii) Patents protect an invention. The invention however has to be novel and contain an inventive step; something non-obvious that can not just be deduced by someone with an average knowledge of the technical field. It also mustn’t fall under the list of non-patentable inventions e.g. medical treatments, mathematical methods e.t.c As a patent owner you have the exclusive right to make, sell, import, and use your patented invention within the territory covered by the patent during the period of protection. (iv) Industrial Designs rights cover those elements of your product that are aesthetic or ornamental. Industrial designs can be applied to a wide range of industrial products such as cars, watches, smartphones, jewellery, etc. To qualify for protection, the design must be new and show a degree of originality. (v) Geographical indication (GI) is a sign used on a product that has a specific geographical origin and possesses qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin e.g Tequila liquor from Mexico, Cognac and Champagne from France, Scotch Whiskey from Scotland e.t.c. To function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place and the qualities, characteristics or reputation of the product should be essentially due to that place of origin. (vi) Copyright is used to describe the rights that creators have in their literary, artistic and scientific works. It covers a wide range of works such as music, paintings, books, sculpture, films, databases, advertisements, maps, technical drawings among other things. There are also rights related to copyright that protect the interests of those closely associated with copyrighted works, including performers, broadcasters and producers of sound recordings. A copyright holder generally possesses economic and moral rights. Essentially, economic rights involve the right to control the distribution of your work (translation, performance, broadcasting, reproduction, etc.). Moral rights, on the other hand, includes among others the right to be acknowledged as the author of the work and to prevent it from being altered in a way that alters your reputation. While economic rights can be transferred, divided and traded, the same cannot be said of moral rights but you could agree to waive or refrain from exercising them. Copyright exists the moment you create the original work. As previously emphasised, IPRs can be viewed like any property rights. They can be licensed, used as security for a loan and traded like real property. In short, the prospect of your Intellectual Property is limitless and you can get the most from it by following these steps: 1) Know what intellectual Property you’ve got and where it is: Every business owns an IP asset. It’s impossible to run a business that doesn’t, thus, to know how best to protect and maximize the value of your IP, you must first and foremost, know what they are and be able to recognize the ones you’ve got. This would inform you of the choices and steps you can take as a business owner to protect and maximize them. 2) Address an IP infringement: Due to the ease of access to technology, IP infringements are easier to perpetuate than ever. So when someone reposts your work without credit or imitates your work, do your best to address it; you can seek legal help on how best to address an infringement. You can also take measures to prevent infringement of your work by using DRM systems e.g. watermarking your work to establish ownership. 3) Before you set out on any project define the rights involved.: When you want to jump on that next project or work on that next collaboration, define and set out the rights involved in the work. Remember, better safe than sorry. 4) Register your IP: The best way to protect and maximize the value of your IP is to register it. This ensures you are legally protected and can treat your IP like an asset without any worry. The law has got you covered.

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