The term ‘Intellectual Property’ covers wide range of intangible assets created by means of mental activity. Authors of such creations of a mind are granted with exclusive rights to use it and harvest commercial gain from it in form of royalties, licensing and selling for a limited period of time, usually 15-25 years.
Standard list of intellectual property objects consists of invention patents, registered industrial design, trademarks, copyright and trade secrets. First three of them are often referred to as ‘Industrial Property’ showing how relevant they are to businesses.
Granting of exclusivity to one’s creation is known from back to 510 B.C.E. in Sybaris, a Greek colony in Southern Italy, where exclusive rights were granted to inventions of new and outstanding culinary recipes. Cooks enjoyed exclusivity for several years in exchange of recipe disclosure. That was effective enough so that cooks won’t take recipes to their graves after death.
Today’s laws of intellectual property provide ‘monopolies’ for periods of 15 years for registered industrial design, 20 years for invention patents, for copyright the term is described as 50 years after author’s death, while trademark registrations remain valid for unlimited period of time, if the application is properly renewed every 10 years.
Trademark registrations are the most popular kind of registered intellectual property protection. Over 4 million of trademarks are registered every year. Its popularity is caused by relatively simple procedures of trademark registration, fairly low application and registration charges and obvious benefits of registered trademarks to businesses such as reduced risk of investment into branding, increased identifiability of certain brand-name among others, knowing that any imitation of a registered trademark by other companies can be sued by claiming damages, etc.
Since Registered Trademarks is not a key object for our blog, we will add some remarks here and not describe it anymore as such. Trademarks are usually registered with national patent authorities with one of the biggest exceptions being European Community (EC) trademark registrations, which are filed with the specialized official body OHIM (Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market) based in Alicante in Spain. Once filed and published, the trademark is protected in whole European Union, which is unfortunately not the case with patent registrations. But the patent system is also moving the same direction, just the process already continues for over 25 years now. However, that deserves a separate article.
Most valuable brands today are Coca Cola (value over 70 billion USD), Apple, IBM, etc. For consumer goods, the trademark value constitutes large part of what the whole company is worth.
Applications for design registration are not so popular, but those who find how to use this kind of Intellectual Property protection appreciate its low-cost and simple procedures, as compared to patents. Some companies use this type of protection in combination with a patent, i.e. the key technology of a product is protected with an invention patent, while the outlook of the product is registered and protected as design. This provides more ‘heavy artillery’ in legal battles.
Registered Community Design (RCD) is also available for seeking protection in the complete EU region. It is registered the same way as Trademarks are – with the European Agency OHIM. It is convenient, cost-effective and… online…
Verbal descriptions are not very important in design registrations – they are even not published. What is important – good drawings/pictures of the product. How to make it correctly – that is another story for another blog article.
In US design registrations are called 'design patents', while invention patents are referred to as utility patents (not to be confused with German Utility Model, which has narrower protection than a regular patent does).
Even more convenience is provided with international design registrations. A single application can be filed and prosecuted for up to 60 countries. However this intellectual property protection tool does not include most important markets, such as the USA, Canada, Australia, etc.
Patent is a Holy Grail for inventors, who seek to commercialize their creations. There is no doubt that patents have been one of the major driving forces in innovations of last two centuries. Usually, patent is always the second option if it is clear that after release of a product, the technology could not be kept secret and will probably be copied or counterfeited. Also it is the first option for those who do not intend to manufacture and use the technology by themselves – their interest is licensing or selling of the technology know-how together with patent rights.
Unfortunately, patent registrations are not as straightforward as for trademarks and registered design. AND it cost a lot of money. AND it needs a LOT of experience to draft and prosecute. AND it needs a lot of patience, because it takes long time to get the patent validated in desired countries. AND it needs to be really commercially successful in order to maintain it by paying always increasing annual renewal fees. But those patents, who are successful, provide a lot of strategic importance to any businesses and individual inventors and change the rules of a game.
With IP - win BIG
Three intellectual property objects as described above form the core of industrial property and are often referred as ‘intangible assets’. Many CEOs and presidents have no clue how to threat it to get most in return, but those who know – many of them are among the Forbes recognized wiseacres.
There are lots of rumors related to intellectual property. Some say that is impossible to defend the rights if the owner of IP is a small company or independent inventor. Others say that it is always a matter of skill to get around a patent. However in real life we see inventors being rewarded with Millons of USD after claiming damages in courts. There are many patents in each technical field, which are respected by competitors and everyone agrees that getting around those patents is not possible - the only option is to wait for expiry or buy a licence.
But still, there are many challenges related. First of all, proper drafting of patent specification and preparation of non-limiting views in design registrations, require considerable amount of skill and cooperation between a patent draftsman and the inventor. The rights are not equally defended in western world and, for example China. All aspects shall be analyzed in this blog, provided by IAM consultants - a world-class provider of patent drafting and prosecution services.