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Intellectual Property (IP) rights
The Intellectual Property (IP) rights of your business determine the value of your idea, so a copyright, patent or trademark is essential. Protect your invention, such as a new product, so that others cannot copy or reproduce what you have done without your permission. When you protect your invention, t its origin is clear. This can be an advantage for your business, because customers may prefer to buy a product that has passed more restrictive checks (a controlled good).
Owning a patent or a trade mark can increase your market value and make it easier for your business to find investors or other funding opportunities.
Patents are most frequently used to protect inventions. With a patent, you have the right to take legal action against anyone who uses or sells your inventions without your permission.
To get a patent you must have an invention that is new – not a modification – so check thoroughly before you apply for a patent. The application process itself can be costly and complicated, so you may choose to enlist specialist help. If someone uses your product or invention protected by a patent without authorisation, you can defend your right and take action. For infringements of national patents, you can contact the competent national court.
Registering a patent gives you exclusive rights (The holder or holders of the IP can exclude anyone else from using the IP in question) over your invention for a limited period, normally 20 years. Other people cannot make, use, offer for sale, sell or import a product or a process based on your patented invention. You can give someone else temporary permission to use the invention through a patent license agreement or sell the patent to someone else. You cannot renew a patent after it expires.
Register a patent on a National Level (i.e. in your EU country)
The following links are available in English and German
For European-wide protection, you can register a European patent with the European Patent Office EPO). A European patent also needs to be validated by the national patent office in each country where protection is required. Depending on the country's law, you may have to provide translations or pay fees by a certain date.
If you wish to have protection at international level, you need to contact the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
Trademarks are most often used to protect brands – so the name and visual identity of your product or service. With a trademark, you can take legal action against anyone who uses or copies your brand without your permission. You can show that your brand is trademarked by putting the ® symbol next to its name.
To register a trademark, the brand must be unique. The things that can be trademarked within your brand include words, sounds, colour schemes and logos. There are also certain things, such as misleading words or offensive terms or images, that cannot be trademarked.
Trademark Registration Links
If your work is original and tangible, then is automatically protected under copyright laws. This means that it must be an idea that no-one else has had before, and you have to have physically expressed that idea – it can’t just be in your head. This is most commonly useful when it comes to creative works such as illustration, photography, literary pieces, web content and music.
When you create an original literary, scientific and artistic work, such as poems, articles, films, songs or sculptures, you are protected by copyright. Nobody apart from you has the right to make the work public or reproduce it. In the 28 EU member states, copyright protects your intellectual property until 70 years after your death, or 70 years after the death of the last surviving author in the case of a work of joint authorship.
Outside of the EU, in any country which signed the Berne Convention, the duration of copyright protection can vary but it lasts until at least 50 years after the author's death.
If you want to prove the existence of your work at a certain point of time, a registration can be useful.
Copyright protection grants you the following exclusive rights:
- economic rights – guaranteeing you have control over your work and remuneration for its use through selling or licensing
- moral rights – usually protecting your rights to claim authorship (right of attribution) and to refuse a modification of your work (right of integrity)
If you create literary, scientific and artistic work, you automatically have copyright protection, which starts from the moment you create your work, so you do not need to go through any formal application process.
However, you may need to advise other people that you are the author of that work. You can attach a copyright notice to your work – such as the "all rights reserved" text, or the © symbol – together with the year the work was created.
You can mark works with the copyright symbol (©), your name and the date to show that it’s protected, but you don’t have to.
The following are automatically copyrighted
- original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, including illustration and photography
- original non-literary written work, e.g. software, web content and databases
- sound and music recordings
- film and television recordings
- the layout of published editions of written, dramatic and musical works
If you own the copyright to your work, you can licence the use of it to others. The licence is a contractual agreement in which the owner of the copyright outlines the ways in which the work can be used if it can be changed and if it will cost anything to use it. You may also choose to sell your copyright, which will also usually be decided via a contract.
Copyright expires after a certain time, depending on the type of work, so look into the rules around the particular thing you want protected.