Small Business Advice

Protecting your ideas, designs and inventions

Jack Stratten

A great idea means nothing if you fail to protect it.

For the aspiring entrepreneur or small business owner, there’s nothing quite like the excitement of coming up with a new idea. But what’s often overlooked – and with dangerous consequences – is the need to protect ideas, inventions and designs. For anyone unsure of what they need, this guide explains the four main types of intellectual property protection.

Patents

A patent gives an inventor the right to refuse others, for a limited time, from making, using or selling their invention.

In effect, the patent makes the invention the official property of the inventor. As a result, the invention can be sold, rented or hired – it becomes a business asset.

It’s also worth noting that a UK patent works only in the UK.

Trademarks

Trademarks are a little more complex.

They can take many forms: words, slogans, shapes, logos and even sounds. And they can be registered against specific goods or companies within specific industries. Indeed, the same business name can appear in multiple industries. These industries are known as ‘classes’; there are 45 different classes, and you can find them here.

It’s all quite confusing, and it gets even more blurry when you start searching for existing trademarks. But if you do need to trademark something, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is the place to go.

Copyright

Copyright is only relevant to authors or creators of original works of text, music, art, photography and film. And theoretically at least, copyright is free – a piece of work doesn’t even need to be registered to qualify, so long as it’s original.

But actually, copyright law is notoriously flimsy. Which is hardly surprising given that all you need to do is pop a © in a document to copyright it.

Registered designs

Registered designs protect the overall shape, design and appearance of a particular product. By registering a design, you’re able to protect against it being copied.

The product itself can really be anything, assuming its shape and/or appearance is provably new.