Bringing Your Product to Market – What do I need to know about IP?

Bringing a new product to market can be an exciting but stressful time with so many aspects to consider, not least of all whether or not it will be a success.

But one area that should be high on the “to do” list is considering IP (Intellectual Property).  And the earlier this is considered the better.

Types of IP

We should perhaps firstly consider the key types of IP that may be relevant to your product:

Patents

These protect technological advancement in products and industrial processes that are inventive and not obvious.  Key to being able to protect your product via patent is that you must not have made your idea/product/invention public before an application is filed.   This includes chatting to friends, looking for investors, or talking to potential manufacturers.  If those conversations need to take place, a good non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is strongly advisable.  And if you are still in the product development stage, running a few checks on what patents already exist may help you avoid conflict, and can help direct your development work so that what you put into the market is truly new.

Designs

Design registration is often overlooked but can provide very valuable protection.  A registered design protects product appearance only, not any technical function, and can cover shape, configuration, pattern or ornamentation.  Seeking patent protection does not exclude you from also seeking design protection, and many Intellectual Property Offices, such as the UK, allow you to register a number of variants of a design at the same time at very little additional cost. 

Design registration can also be the IP right of choice if your product doesn’t qualify for patent protection but you have put effort into creating a beautiful product.

Trade Marks

These protect the brand elements you decide on for your product, and most commonly include names, logos and slogans, and more unusually can include colours, sounds and shapes.

When choosing a brand name it is advisable to undertake checks to see if the name is already taken, and more specifically already protected, so that unnecessary conflicts can be avoided with the owners of registered trade marks.  A trade mark registration provides the right to take action against use of something the same, or so similar that consumers will get confused.

 Developments in IP

Brexit

Brexit for many will have a significant impact on IP rights, in particular trade marks and designs, as these can be protected through special EU wide systems.  Of course Brexit negotiations are ongoing,  but all parties are working towards ensuring that existing registered EU rights will continue to have effect in the UK, minimising the impact on business owners who have feared having to re-register rights.  The draft withdrawal agreement provides provision for this, although the position may be more complicated for rights which are still pending at the point of Brexit and this is still the subject of lobbying.

International Design Protection

In June this year the UK became an active signatory to an International convention which allows for the cost effective protection of designs in a number of countries.  Previously UK businesses could only use this system, referred to as the Hague system, by virtue of the UK’s membership of the EU.  Separate membership by the UK is an important step ahead of Brexit.

Trade Secrets

The UK now recognises “trade secrets” as a specific type of IP right.  This is as a result of an EU Directive, with the implementing law in the UK coming into force on 9 June this year.  The most famous trade secret is perhaps the Coca Cola recipe.  So if you have an internal process that is confidential, or a recipe for a formulation or product, then a trade secret may be for you.  There must be some commercial value to it, it must still be secret, and you must take measures to ensure it stays secret to be afforded the protection that the law now specifies.

An understanding of the IP rights in your product can help drive the success of your product.  A Chartered Trade Mark Attorney or Chartered Patent Attorney will be able to assist to ensure that you get the most out of the IP system for your business.