Copyright vs Trade Mark vs Design Right

How much do you know about your rights when it comes to ownership of your creative output and ideas?

Intellectual property laws and regulations are designed to help businesses and creative people have control when it comes to protecting their products, designs and creations. Whether you’re a maker or a buyer it’s a good idea to understand the basic legal terms and which ones apply to your work.


What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property covers anything you have created, such as your product, the name of your product or your brand.

It also applies to anything you have written, created or produced.

You can also buy the intellectual property rights to something from the original creator.

There are a few different types of intellectual property rights and one object can be covered by more than one regulation.


What is copyright?

Copyright is perhaps the best-known form of intellectual property protection. It was put in place to make sure creative work is not used without the creator’s permission.

It’s an automatic protection that covers anything you have created. You can also register for copyright with a licensing body.

The most common forms of work covered by copyright are:

  • Literary work
  • Art
  • Photography 
  • Film
  • TV
  • Music 
  • Web content 
  • Sound recordings

Copyright is infringed when either the whole or a substantial part of a work is used without permission. If your copyright is infringed you can seek an injunction to stop further infringements or seek damages.

In the UK, the length of copyright depends on the type of product being protected. Literary and musical works are subject to copyright that expires after the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years, while copyright of broadcast material expires 50 years from the end of the year it was made.


What is trade mark?

Trade marks are most often used to protect brand identities. They ensure that the brands we are familiar with aren’t replicated or copied, so buyers know they’re spending money on the genuine article.

In the UK, current legislation around trade marks is guided by the Trade Marks Act 1994, where trade marks are defined as ‘Any sign capable of being represented graphically which is capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings’.

Trade Mark can be applied to:

  • Names
  • Words
  • Phrases (such as a slogan)
  • Logo
  • Symbol
  • Design
  • Image
  • Sound
  • Shape
  • Signature
  • Any combination of these elements

Trade marks need to be registered through the UK Intellectual Property Office.

It’s possible to legally defend your trade mark without having registered it first by arguing ‘prior rights’, but a legally registered trade mark is much easier to defend.

Registered trade marks are protected for 10 years. After 10 years you will have the option to renew (for a fee).


What is design right?

A design right is usually an automatic protection that applies to designed objects. You can also  register your design  for design right.

In the case of two-dimensional designs, registration is required.

Design right is commonly used alongside copyright and it protects the design for 10 years after it was first sold or 15 years after it was first created.

Design right protects the shape of designed objects and the way the different parts are arranged together. To qualify for design right the design must be significantly new and have individual character.


How do you know if something is protected by intellectual property?

You can check the status of intellectual property for many creative works by using the  IP Equip Service .

For more advice on running a small business check out our  online resources

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