Intellectual Property (IP) plays an important role in business and is the way the law converts an innovative brand, design, invention or product into a unique and protectable asset.
There are, broadly, six types of IP rights and respectively they protect:
- Trade marks: trading names and logos
- Design rights: the aesthetic appearance of products
- Patents: inventions
- Copyright: artistic and literary works
- Trade secrets: secret information or data
- Database rights: investment in obtaining and presenting data
Marking your territory
Protecting your brand is something that is not just for large corporations or multi-nationals. It is something that can grow and protect a bottom line for any business.
Whilst most food and drink producers do lend careful thought to their brand, one of the most common mistakes is a failure to secure ownership of the business's IP.
Trade marks are the most common form of IP requiring protection. However businesses often develop a new product range with a new and novel name but do not necessarily think about protecting it. If the product becomes popular, this can then leave an unwanted gap in the brand's protection and leave the product vulnerable to copycats.
By registering a UK trade mark, you can start to protect your brand and differentiate your product. There are very real benefits to doing this, including:
- Financial – opening up opportunities for; licensing revenue, franchise opportunities, increased exit valuations and increased borrowing prospects
- Monopoly rights – preventing third parties from creeping into your territory by using an identical or confusingly similar mark on identical or similar products
How do I register a trade mark?
Trade mark registration is accessible to all businesses.
The core of this process is clearly defining both the scope of the brand you want to protect (called the mark) and the classes of product in which protection is sought. The trade mark system defines those classes by product type, for instance, class 29: meat/fish and class 32: beers.
There are however potential pitfalls which are important to note. Notably, drafting the specification and selecting the appropriate class to properly protect your product is a complex process. There are also several important deadlines to adhere to, both during and after registration.
After registration you should also keep a watchful eye on the market and on other trade mark applications to ensure your marks are not infringed. Infringement can take a variety of forms, ranging from the unsophisticated (straightforward "copy-cat rip offs") to the more sophisticated (ensuring that other substitute products come up in competitors' Google search results).
The EU Protected Name Scheme also establishes three initiatives which help protect products from a particular provenance. These are:
- Protected Designation of Origin - indicates products which are produced in a given geographical area using recognised know-how (e.g. Fal oysters, Jersey royal potatoes, Cornish clotted cream)
- Protected Geographical Indication - informs consumers that a product has been manufactured (at least partially) within a specific geographical area and has special qualities due to its origin (these are becoming increasingly popular in the South West/Cornwall e.g. Cornish sardines, Cornish pasties, West Country Beef/Lamb)
- Traditional Speciality Guaranteed - highlights traditional character, either in the composition or means of production (e.g. traditionally farmed Gloucestershire old spots pork, traditional bramley apple pie filling)
The law, both nationally and at an EU level, can therefore prove to be powerful ally in establishing and protecting your businesses' brand. With this it is hoped that Cornish producers and farmers take the necessary steps to make the most of the immensely valuable commodity they have – the outstanding quality and heritage of the food and drink they produce.