Intellectual Property: The most important tool for a designer

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Intellectual property rights are a bit of a minefield. There are so many aspects to them, and many people confuse which type of rights apply to what. There are a few different types of intellectual property rights available to use for businesses, the main aim of IP rights is to protect the products, services and byproducts that a company creates. Below are some of the main types of intellectual property as defined by the UK government:

Copyright and design rights are automatic and would cover the majority of things which I would create as a designer across website design and film production. Below is a further breakdown of what is covered by each type of IP rights and which ones I might use.

Copyright covers any writing or literary works, art, photography, films, TV, music, web content and sound recordings. For the majority of my work, I would be producing content across a few of these and this would mean that most of my work would automatically be protected by copyright laws in the country of origin (in this case the UK). Copyrights last for your entire lifetime, plus 50 years for most works. Copyright prevents people from copying, distributing playing or making adaptation of any work you do. This can be especially useful if I have come up with unique designs or a specific style of design for websites.

Design Rights
Design rights protect the shape of a design, for example, if you designed some wallpaper patterns and didn’t want anyone to copy the style this would be protected by design rights. Design rights are automatic similar to copyright and would protect a product’s design.

Registered Designs
This is an extension to design rights and would allow you to further protect the design of a product including the shape, packaging, patterns, colours or decorations used in it’s creation. Registering a design requires application which could take a month or longer depending on what is being registered however offers more legal protection than automatic protection. Registered designs are protected for up to 25 years, however you need to renew them every 5 years. By registering a design, it is much easier to take legal action against infringement and copying.

Patents are often used to protect inventions or products with specific properties. These are often used to protect medicines or particular parts of a mechanical device. One example of a patent would be the Wankel engine, a type of engine which ‘rotates’ instead of using pistons which go up and down. The patent of this is held by Mazda, who are the only people allowed to manufacture this type of engine due to the protections in place. Patents need to be vetted by the IPO and can take a very long time to obtain, the process could take 5 years or even longer!

Trademarks can be used to protect a brand, from the name of a product, to the brand and any associated slogans or jingles which go with it. Registering a trademark takes up to 4 months, and lasts for 10 years. Once registered you may use the ® symbol to show that your trademark is registered and legal action can be taken against anyone who uses the brand without permission.

So which one do I use and what else do I need to be aware of?

The question that most people have is which type of intellectual property is relevant for their business. In my case I would likely want to protect the Trademarks for any logos or words I use as part of my business (for example, I may want to trademark ‘Shad of all trades’, a name I came up with during our advertising lecture). I would also apply for copyrights on the layout of my website or certain pages to ensure those are protected. 

I would need to be aware of copyrights of anything that I use for my website. For example, if I source stock images, I need to make sure that those particular images are available for me to use under a license whether for free or as a purchase. As a creator myself, One way in which I could license out copyrighted works would be to use the Creative Commons licensing. This would allow me to protect my work at various levels of ‘allowed’ copying, or restrict people from copying my work altogether.

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