Intellectual Property is a large, complex, and increasingly important area of law.
Unlike real estate, or other tangible property, the intangible nature of Intellectual Property means that people often have difficulty grasping the concept.
Copyright & Patents
Adding to the conceptual difficultly is the fact that one physical item may embody several ‘layers’ of intellectual property. For example, the music embodied in a commercial CD may have several layers of copyright associated with it – copyright of the lyrics, copyright of the music, copyright of the album artwork, copyright of the text of the album booklet, and several patents relating to the physical structure, encoding and decoding of the data on the CD.
In addition to copyright and patents, another extremely important area of Intellectual Property to business is Trade Marks – that is, how to protect the identity and branding of your business.
At the most basic level, there are two forms of Trade Mark – a registered Mark and an unregistered Mark. Registration of a Mark affords additional protections to your Mark as opposed to an unregistered Mark, and makes it easier to prosecute possible infringements of your Mark.
Many people associate a Trade Mark with a logo or slogan, however a Mark does not necessarily have to be so limited. It is possible to register a colour – Cadbury, for example, have registered a particular shade of purple. – a shape such as Coca-Cola Amatil’s ‘contour’ bottle – or even a sound, such as Intel’s ‘Intel Inside’ sound.
Another, often overlooked, form of Intellectual Property is confidential information. Most, if not all, businesses have a wealth of valuable information – for example, customer & supplier lists, information on business system & processes, future product or service roadmaps and information on financial performance.
It is often important that this valuable information remain confidential to the business. Certain actions or inactions may allow information to lose its confidential characteristic, and therefore not allow you to prevent a third party from disseminating or using that information for their own purpose. You should always ensure that relevant non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements are in place where and when appropriate.
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