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Intellectual Property Protection: Why, Where, When & How

If you’re in the process of designing or developing a new product or technology, you will at some point need to consider how you will protect your invention.

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Many people immediately think of ‘patent’ protection as the default form of intellectual property protection, but patents are not always the most appropriate or cost effective option.

What types of intellectual property protection exist and what are they used for?

1. Patents

The most powerful form of protection for companies involved in inventing, designing and developing new products or technologies is patent protection. Patents can protect the technical concept behind a product or technology.

In legal terms, a patent grants a monopoly to an entity (which may be an individual or a company), which allows them to stop others from using their inventions for a limited period of time.

The patent document shows how the invention works in the form of a description and drawings as well as defining the scope of the monopoly granted in the form of the claims.

Once granted, it gives the owner the right to take legal action against another person or business that infringes on the claims of the patent, for example by selling or importing the invention without express permission.

For an invention to be patentable it must fulfil the following essential conditions:

  • Be novel i.e. a new and original idea
  • Be inventive i.e. not be an obvious development of something that already exists

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Because of the very intricate details of technology or product designs, patent applications must be precise and accurate, giving enough details to allow someone else to recreate the invention.

The “novelty” condition in a patent application covers any information, which may have been made available to the public anywhere at any time prior to the effective filing date of the patent.

So it is critical that no information about the invention is publicly disclosed in any form (e.g. written or spoken) before the patent application is filed.

2. Design registration

Design registration provides registered protection for how a product looks or appears. Unlike patents, registered designs do not cover technical concepts or ideas.

Registered designs protect the appearance of all or part of a 50-weird-and-awesome-inventions-from-the-consumer-golden-age2D or 3D product’s design features including:

  • Lines
  • Contours
  • Colours
  • Shape
  • Texture
  • Materials

The design must be new and possess individual character, defined as giving an impression to an informed individual of being ‘different’ to any other design already in the public domain.

3. Trade Marks

Trade Marks help to protect a name or brand from misuse by third parties. Trade Marks can be used to protect words, slogans, logos and even distinctive packaging.

4. Copyright

Copyright law grants exclusive rights for use and distribution of original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works to the creator of the work, so does not relate directly to the development of new products or technologies.

Using patents to protect your technology

If you have a new product that includes patentable technology (see #1 above), you will need to ensure that your application for a patent is comprehensive, accurate and clearly sets out the scope of protection that you are seeking.

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The application process can be fraught, complex and frustrating because of the level of detail required, so Cambridge Design Technology recommend a specialist patent attorney, Ablett and Stebbing.

The main sections of the patent application

Description: The most detailed part of the application is the complete description of the product, its design, technology, components and what it will be used for along with any other information.

Claims: The most critical part of the patent application is the claims, which define the legal scope of the invention in terms of its essential features, including those elements that make it new and inventive with respect to what has been done before.

Typically, a numbered list of claims is included to first define the invention in its broadest terms, seeking to reduce the invention to its essential elements and then to introduce preferred and optional features.

Drawings: To support the patent application, you should submit flat drawings of your product or technology, which should be referenced in the description of your application.

It is not advisable to submit full CAD files, photographs, or coloured or shaded drawings. Any drawings submitted should be fully described in the text of the application.

What are the benefits of protecting technology with a patent?

Legal monopoly to protect your valuable intellectual property asset

A patent gives your business a legal monopoly over the exploitation of your invention by any other business or person. The patent owner can challenge unauthorised use of the patented invention, and in most cases a settlement can be reached without court proceedings.

Commercial value

The patent is intellectual property, and as such if it has commercial value, it can be sold if desired.

Profitability

Crucially, as a business you can grant a license to licensees appointed by you or your agents to exploit the invention on a legal and commercial footing with potentially profitable implications.

Corporation tax relief – The Patent Box

According to the HMRC website, “The Patent Box allows companies to elect to apply a 10% rate of corporation tax from 1 April 2013 to profits attributable to qualifying patents, whether received as a royalty or embedded in the sales price of products”.

The scheme applies to UK-based companies, and its goal is to reward companies doing research and development and developing intellectual property in the UK.

In summary, companies can benefit from the Patent Box if they:

  • Are liable for corporation tax in the UK
  • Own or license in qualifying patents
  • Profit from the exploitation of patented invention
  • Have undertaken qualifying development by making a significant contribution to the creation or development of the patents or a product incorporating the patented invention.

Patented product design in practice

Cambridge Design Technology partners with UK and European patent and trade mark attorneys Ablett & Stebbing.

This partnership means that clients starting the product or technology design process with design consultants Cambridge Design Technology can benefit from a service that guides them through the whole design and development cycle to production and ongoing protection of their IP assets.

Ablett & Stebbing offer a range of services to help clients benefit from intellectual property protection and the Patent Box regime. These include:

  • Drafting, filing and prosecuting patent applications for new products, processes and machines in all areas of technology
  • Reviewing existing patent portfolios to determine whether products are covered by patents or patent applications
  • Advising on strategies for maximising Patent Box benefits

Next steps

Cambridge Design Technology offers a full design service to enable you to take your product or technology idea from concept to reality. Through the various stages of development we can introduce you to our established partners for software development, prototyping, regulatory affairs – as well as patent and trade mark protection described above.

Please contact Cambridge Design Technology or Ablett & Stebbing to find out more about these services.

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