An important part of running a business effectively requires being aware of your own and other’s Intellectual Property (IP) rights.

All too often we see businesses battling over IP rights.

Take Sally and Peter as an example. They had been in business for about a year designing and selling what they thought was a unique product.

Their business was growing and they started building a reputation for themselves in the market.

Unfortunately, they recently received a letter from another company’s lawyers advising them that they were breaching IP laws because their brand name was too similar to their client’s name.

Sally and Peter had to choose whether to enter into a legal battle to try to retain the rights to their brand name, or concede defeat and start over with a new name.

Commonsense prevailed, and they ruefully set about destroying stationery, replacing signage, organising amendments to their advertising and website, and investing in establishing a new brand name.

If they had done their homework and sought basic legal advice about brands when they were starting out they could have saved a significant amount of time, stress and money.

Types of Intellectual Property

There are different fields of IP law that protect ideas, written work, logos, and inventions that are valuable to a business. The IP right which is most suitable for you will depend on what your idea is and what level of protection is required. Some of the most common types of IP are:

  • Copyright: Copyright protects original work; including written works, artistic works, sound recordings, films, communications and publications. It enables the owner to take action against the unauthorised copying of any original work. Copyright protection is automatic in New Zealand from the date of creation for a limited period of time, which varies depending on the type of copyright work; no formal registration process is required. However, it is sensible to notify others through a copyright notice in the following or similar format: © Copyright 2011. Joe Bloggs [or Company Name]. All rights reserved.
  • Trade Marks: A Trade Mark links a brand name with the supplier of products and services, and can be either registered or unregistered. By registering your Trade Mark you gain greater protection for your brand name and any associated logos. To qualify the Trade Mark must be unique to your products and services, and it must be represented graphically.
  • Patents*: A patent will protect a new innovative idea by preventing others from using the invention for a period of twenty years. A number of rules apply to a patent application. First, the inventor must prove they have a way to put the idea into practice. Second, the inventor must apply for a patent before he or she uses or discloses the idea. Keeping the idea a secret is essential to the success of your application. You must also be certain the invention is original – this can be achieved by searching the patent records.

If you are starting out in business and would like some advice about Intellectual Property, give us a call for a relaxed and confidential initial chat on 0800 733 424.

* Patent law is extremely technical, and only qualified patent attorneys are able to advise on certain aspects of patent law. Rainey Collins is not a patent law firm, but can advise on all other intellectual property matters.