Intellectual Property

Jane Lambert

25 Nov 2016

Intellectual property is the collective term that we use for the laws that protect a business's investment in its branding, designs, technology and creativity. We sometimes refer to the things that are protected by those laws as intellectual assets. Patents, copyrights, registered trade marks and registered designs are all examples of intellectual property.

These laws protect intellectual assets in different ways.  Patents, for instance, confer monopolies of the making, selling, importation, use and other exploitation of new inventions for up to 20 years. Copyrights restrict the copying, publication, performance, making available or adaptation of certain types of work of art and literature such as novels, paintings, plays, films, musical scores, sound recordings, databases, computer programs and published editions for various terms ranging from the life of the author plus 70 years in the case of original artistic, dramatic, literary and musical works down to 25 years for the typographical arrangements of published works.

Some of those works come into being automatically when certain conditions are met.  Others require registration with a national, regional, inter-governmental or supranational intellectual property office.  The intellectual property office for the UK is called the Intellectual Property Office ("the IPO") though the European Patent Office ("the EPO") can grant patents that are good for the UK and the European Union Intellectual Property Office ("the EUIPO") can register EU trade marks and registered Community designs that are valid in the UK for so long as we remain in the European Union.

Anyone who does an act that is restricted to the owner of an intellectual property right is said to infringe that right. Actions for injunctions (orders of a court) to stop or prevent infringements and recover damages (compensation) or any profits that a wrongdoer has gained from an infringement can be brought by the rights owners in the civil courts.

In England and Wales these are High Court or County Court sitting in London and some other towns and cities. Within the High Court there are two specialist courts for intellectual property cases.  The Patents Court hears patents, registered design, semiconductor topography and plant variety cases. The Intellectual Property Enterprise Court ("IPEC") hears IP claims under £500,000 which can be decided in one or two days.

Some intellectual property infringements are crimes as well as civil matters and these are prosecuted by local authority trading standards officers in the Crown Court or the magistrates courts.

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