Steps to protect your business ideas

If you have thought of an idea on which to base your business, then it is certainly worth trying to protect it with the law, in case someone tries to copy your idea.

If you have thought of an idea on which to base your business, then it is certainly worth trying to protect it with the law, in case someone tries to copy your idea. Ideas as such can’t be protected but inventions can be patented, designs and publications are protected by copyright and a name or symbol can be protected under trademark.

How to protect an invention with a patent

If your idea is an invention, such as a product, machine or type of process, this can normally be protected with a patent, so long as it falls under one of these four requirements:

  • it must be new (not published or made known anywhere else in the world)
  • it must involve an inventive step
  • it must be a device that can be used in a practical activity
  • it cannot be a discovery

The body that grants patents is the Patent Office. Registering patents can be quite a complex process, and many inventors will use a patent agent to help them – remember to get quotes from three or four before employing one. Check out the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents (CIPA) for more information. It holds regular clinics at a number of sites in the UK, giving free basic advice to those in the early stages of developing an idea. Many firms of patent agents will also offer the first consultation free of charge, and you can find details on the CIPA’s website at www.cipa.org.uk.

Weigh up the costs

Filing a patent can be a costly process, so do some research first. When you first file your application, you can do a patent search (which costs around £130) to verify that your invention is new or has an inventive step. If you decide to proceed, you pay another fee of £70, and then a yearly renewal fee, which increases each year. If you want to patent your product in other countries, you will also need to pay more.

Registering a trademark

A trademark is basically a symbol that identifies a product in the eyes of the consumer. It is worth registering a trademark as it can help build loyalty amongst your customers, encouraging them to choose your product or service over those offered by the competition.

“A trademark can help make you look more professional. It’s an item of property in its own right, so you can sell it if you want to, or you can license it to other people to use. It can be a recognised brand for your customers,” says trademark attorney Andrew Murch.

As Murch explains, a trademark can be a word or symbol, and even a shape or smell. Think carefully about what your trademark will be, as it should fit in with the product or service you are trying to sell.

You can contact the Trade Marks Registry (which is part of the Patent Office). You can do a trademark search which will avoid a later conflict with names that are already protected – remember that having to rename or relaunch your product can be very expensive and ultimately damaging. As with applying for a patent, you can use a trademark agent to help you with the application.

As well as legal protection, there are simple steps you can take to help protect the mark. For example, consider putting TM beside the mark when you use it in advertisements or sales leaflets.

Also see: Top five intellectual property mistakes to avoid

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