How to Be Master of Your Own Inventions; More Than 70% of Businesses Risk Losing Intellectual Property Rights, Discovers Glyn MOn Hughes

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Byline: Glyn MOn Hughes

NEW inventions always attract their fair share of green-eyed glances. How many people say 'I could have done that' or 'I wish I'd thought of that'. And there'll be a fair proportion saying 'I thought of that first' . That's where disputes start. Who thought of what first? Who had the initial idea? Who owns that idea?

In a nation renowned for inventive prowess - Britain invented things which revolutionised life in the last century: television, telephone, computer, the jet engine - there's plenty of scope to claim one person got there first.

Yet, in a striking survey from the Patent Office, more than 70% of British businesses risk losing intellectual property rights when signing deals with other businesses.

Ignorance or complacency means that 40% of businesses surveyed think they automatically own the copyright if they ask a sub-contractor to develop software for their business, while an additional 30% of businesses simply do not know who owns it.

Few seem to know ownership of the copyright actually rests with the sub-contractor unless the commissioning business clearly states in a written contract before work is carried out that ownership is theirs.

Intellectual property specialist Paul Tomlinson, of Chester-based solicitors Aaron and Partners said: 'Many businesses do not fulfil their potential by failing adequately to protect key assets.

'The benefits of intellectual property protection are immeasurable and many companies can lose their rights without knowing it. Protecting intellectual property and establishing agreements from the outset can effectively avoid potentially damaging situations.'

Dafydd Davies, chief executive of Bangor-based BIC Innovation, said: 'Companies, whether buyers or sellers, contract someone to do something and neither side is clear who owns what.

'The classic case is with photographers. Most people think, once the job is done, they own the pictures, but they don't. Copyright rests with the photographer. If you wanted exclusivity, you'd have to negotiate that as part of the fee, and if you want to own the copyright then you'd negotiate to pay more. It's generally the same in areas such as graphics, marketing and so on.'

Ownership of IP rights also extends into areas such as education and health.

A university or college owns the rights to a student's work while they are studying at the institution, and employees in organisations like the NHS who have an idea or invent something in the course of their work do not own that idea. It's the employer's property.

Lack of understanding of IP and the potential ramifications of a major dispute need to be understood.

'All businesses need to be aware how to handle intellectual property because they all own some and should value it,' said Lawrence Smith-Higgins, head of marketing at the Patent Office. …