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Protecting Your IP: Considerations for Small Businesses

By Cathy Wever

2 min read

No matter what kind of business you’re in, or how big or small your company, protecting your intellectual property (IP) can be crucial to generating an income, remaining competitive and reducing risk.

Despite this, many business owners do not fully understand what IP is and which types of intellectual property they should register.

What Sort of Intellectual Property Can Be Protected?

There are six types of intellectual property that can be legally protected. In some instances, obtaining IP protection requires registration. However, in other instances protection is automatic.

Types of intellectual property include:

  •          Patents
  •          Trademarks
  •          Registered designs
  •          Copyright
  •          Circuit layout rights
  •          Plant breeders’ rights

The first three IP registration types above are relevant to the majority of Australian businesses. Here’s a brief overview of each one.

1. Patents

A patent is an exclusive right to commercialise or license an invention. To obtain a patent registration, your invention must meet certain criteria, including that it is new, inventive and useful. Importantly, if you’ve already gone public with your invention, it may not be considered new and therefore you may not be granted a patent. Keep secret any invention you wish to patent until you’ve registered it with IP Australia.

2. Trademarks

A trademark provides more rights than simply registering your business name. A registered trademark protects and proves ownership of your brand or logo. As long as you are using the TM symbol and paying annual renewal fees, a trademark can last forever. Trademarks don’t have to be new, but they do need to distinguish what it is that you sell. You can’t trademark a description – for example, ‘yellow bananas’. Similarly, you cannot register a trademark that is too similar to a competitor’s trademark for very similar goods or services.

3. Registered Designs

A registered design protects how a product looks and may last for up to 10 years. To be registered, a design must be a distinctive and also new, so it pays to keep your design under wraps if you plan to register it.

4. Copyright

Copyright is another form of intellectual property protection relevant to many businesses. Copyright protects original creative works in the form of books, drawings, art, drama, music, software, video and so on. Copyright protection is free and lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator of the work. Copyright protection is automatic, however many businesses still elect to display a copyright notice in a prominent place on their work.

5. Circuit Layouts and Plant Breeders’ Rights

Circuit layout rights and plant breeders’ rights (PBR) are more niche areas of intellectual property. Automatic protection is provided for original circuit layouts. However, you must apply for PBR, which last up to 25 years.

Developing an IP Strategy

It’s important to consider registering for intellectual property protection at the earliest possible stage in the life of your business. It’s also important to consider applying for IP protection, such as patents, in each country you plan to do business.

Also remember to keep your IP secret until it is registered. If any of the work that gives your business a competitive advantage becomes public, it may not be possible to retroactively protect it using intellectual property laws. The result could be a loss of competitive edge through your competitors being able to freely copy your most valuable business assets.

Intellectual property is a business’s most valuable asset, so you don’t want your business representatives, investors or contractors to leak it. Download our free non-disclosure agreement to use during business negotiations.

For more information on intellectual property, visit the Australian government’s IP business information page.

Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

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