Intellectual Property Rights

Article excerpt

Intellectual property rights cover trade marks, brand names, designs, copyright and patents. Many companies are finding hidden value in their intellectual property rights. Indeed some large food and other companies are even writing the value of their brands into their accounts. However many other companies lose considerable value because of their failure to register inventions, and their failure to enforce their intellectual property rights.

Many of the new industries depend heavily on such rights, these range from internet and software companies and their dependence on copyright and the patenting of discoveries by the highly successful British biotechnology industry.

Trade marks and brand names

Trade marks and brand names distinguish the goods and services of one trader from those of others. A trade mark is designated as:

'any sign capable of being represented graphically which is capable of distinguishing goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings'

It may consist of words, designs (symbols), letters, numerals or the shape of goods or their packaging. The legal protection of trade names and branding have been in place since 1890. The law now covering this is contained in the Trade Marks Act 1994. This was passed to implement EC Directive (89/104/EEC) which sought to approximate the laws of the member states relating to trade marks and to make provision in connection with Council Regulation (EC) No 40/94 on the Community Trade Mark. The Act also gives effect to the Madrid Protocol Relating to International Registration of Marks of 27 June 1989. Applications to register trade marks in the EC are made to the Office for Harmonisation in the International Market (Trade Marks and Designs), (OHIM), in Alicante Spain, which came into operation in 1996. For UK registration only application is made to the Patent Office.

UK Patents Office

Application for a patent is made to the Patent Office and is accompanied by a detailed specification of the invention and a set of claims which define the scope of the invention for which the patentee seeks a monopoly. If granted the patentee is given a monopoly right to the exclusive use of the invention which will last for a maximum of 20 years, a renewable fee is payable annually after five years. Patents can be bought, sold, hired or licensed. To be patentable an invention must be new, involve an inventive step and be capable of industrial application. Ideas, scientific theories or mathematical methods are not patentable.

Intellectual property exchanges

Companies who want to reduce their research and development costs can now turn to information technology exchanges on the internet. There are about 20 of these exchanges available including Yet2.com, Patent & License Exchange and NewIdeaTrade.com

For individuals with a brilliant idea a people-to-business exchange has been set up so that they can sell their ideas to companies. Companies such as Coca Cola are amongst the inaugural members (2000ideas.com).

"A Year and a half ago we did a survey and realised we were spending El billion on research & development but we were using less than ten percent of it in our own products",

said Jeff Weddman vice president of global licensing and external ventures at Cincinnati based Proctor and Gamble. P&G have 27,000 patents and most are now available to be licensed.

Patents co-operation treaty

This provides for the filing of a single patent application designating the countries in which protection is sought. The system is operated by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). Some 31 countries are members, including the UK, USA and most European countries.

European Patent Convention

This provides for patent filing at the European Patent Office in Munich. The application specifies the member states in which protection is requested. …