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What does ‘intellectual property right’ mean, and what categories of rights are there?

IP rights are intangible, in that they aren’t real property you can touch.  Another way of thinking of this is they are rights that are created by the work of the human imagination and intelligence.

The most common categories are copyrights, trademarks, patents, designs and confidential information, or trade secrets.  The intellectual property rights regime of your individual jurisdiction will differ, but there is much shared between systems across the globe.  When intellectual property rights can be created, and in turn benefit society through the defense of intellectual creations, this provides a powerful economic incentive for the imaginative and creative to pursue their crafts.  This in turn benefits society at large.  This is the orthodox view in any event.

What rights do owners of intellectual property have?

The owner of a registered patent has a monopoly over the invention that is protected by the patent.  A registered trademark confers a bundle of exclusive rights upon the registered owner, including the right to exclusive use of the mark in relation to the products or services for which it is registered.  These protections allow the owner to prevent third parties from using the invention without permission. For instance, if a third party uses an invention without permission, the patent owner is inter alia entitled to an injunction restraining the third party from using the invention, as well as damages caused by the infringement.

What do I need to watch out for as a business owner?  What is truly important and what isn’t?  What do I need to take into account when planning a new go to market strategy?

Registering your intellectual property under the law allows your business to claim ownership over, and derive value from intangible creations or ideas, as long as they fall within the scope of what is protectable.

You can license your IP rights to third parties in exchange for license fees or royalties or percentage thereof

Once acquired, you can, and indeed you must, prevent competitors from infringing on your rights (i.e. stop them from using a confusingly similar brand name, or stop them from using your idea without your permission.

If you are trying to attract investors or are intending to sell your business, intellectual property rights can be an important determining factor of your business’ value.  For some businesses, such as software makers and artists, it makes up the bulk of their business’ value.

Questions to ask when entering a new market for the first time:

Which types of intellectual property rights you are intending to use in that market?  Are you copyrighting media?  Are you selling goods that bear a particular mark or designation?  Does your intended use of your intellectual property in the new market conflict with rights of any existing competitor in the market you want to enter?  What steps can you take to register or protect your rights?  Do you need to take any steps at all?  What will the cost and maintenance of that registration cost long term?

What is the best time to begin registering your intellectual property?

It’s never too early!  Generally, registration is time sensitive, in that the first to file may well have the best claim.  IP registration is time sensitive. Generally, you will not be able to register your IP if there is someone who has registered something identical or similar before you.

You may not have the budget to register all your IP rights from day one, and it doesn’t always make sense to, frankly.  But don’t let that deter you from developing a going to market IP strategy and planning to register and/or expand the scope of your current protections when the financial resources become available.

You may also have alternative and independent strategies.  Not all copyright requires registration, for instance.  There may also be provisional patent protection or other strategies you may want to explore.

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