IP: How to protect your most valuable asset

Copyright

Copyright will subsist in ‘original’ works falling into certain categories including literary, musical, dramatic and artistic works. This will cover items such as source code text for software, databases, photographs and drawings.

Any business will have numerous works which qualify for protection. For those works with real commercial value it is sensible to include the © symbol together with the name of the owner and the year it was created. This will notify third parties of your rights and will allow them to contact you should they wish to obtain a licence.

Databases

Where there has been substantial investment in obtaining, verifying or presenting the contents of a database, for example key customer lists, it may be possible to benefit from a separate database right. This will allow you to prevent others from extracting and re-utilising information on the database without your authorisation.

Software

It is generally not possible to patent software in the UK, although you may wish to consider seeking patent protection abroad if the software will be used extensively outside the UK.

The source code itself will be protected by copyright provided it has not been copied from elsewhere, however protection does not extend to the ideas behind the software. It is therefore advisable to keep the source code and software specifications confidential where possible and to ensure that non-disclosure agreements are in place for those who do have access.

Confidential information

A business will inevitably have certain trade secrets and confidential information which it needs to protect. Whilst some of this information may be protected by implied duties of confidence, you should ensure that access to confidential information is limited to those employees who need it and that clear policies are in place to deal with misuse of such information.

Conclusion

The commercial advantages of building a strong intellectual property portfolio cannot be understated. Any business will have information, inventions, ideas or designs which are highly valuable and making effective use of the IP rights set out above can help to ensure that those assets are properly protected.

Having these rights in place will also make a business more attractive to investors and prospective purchasers. IP protection is therefore particularly important for small businesses looking to achieve growth and possibly expand into new markets.

Tom Lingard is head of TMT at Stevens & Bolton.

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