Intellectual Property Rights in UK Law

United Kingdom flag with gavelThere are several different forms of intellectual property rights available in the United Kingdom, each with its own formality, level of protection, and duration period. It is crucial that any individual who creates a product, or who believes that they would benefit through protecting their intellectual property ensures that they follow the correct procedure. Obviously, this requires having at least some basic information about the available rights to pursue.

Many individuals will incorrectly assert a claim for copyright infringement. However, copyright infringement is a niche protection right and is only afforded to ‘artistic output’. No formality is required to register this right in the United Kingdom, which is different than U.S. practice. In the U.S. a copyright will exist upon creation, but to enforce the copyright it must be registered. In the UK, however, it is often said that a copyright arises ‘before the ink is dry upon the paper’. Copyright will subsist in the artistic work for 70 years from the death of the creator. The protection afforded by copyright is to prevent others from duplicating the protected work. A limitation with this intellectual property right, and its informal registration requirement is that it is often all too easy to replicate an idea already in existence without any prior knowledge of that work. Most commonly copyright protection is associated with music and literary creations. Copyright shall exist until 70 years from the death of the original creator.

Trademark infringement is another intellectual property right individuals in the U.K. are becoming ever more aware of. Recently, the famous children’s toy Rubiks cube found itself at the bitter end of a trademark battle. A trademark right protects the company name and/ or logo for goods or services. A trademark is obtained through registration and lasts indefinitely. They are often associated with larger companies, however even small new businesses should ensure that they protect their name and logo. For the given reason that if a new company were to grow, then there would be a certain degree of reputation associated with the name. Therefore, in the future it may become necessary to bring an action against another company who incorrectly used your company name. In this scenario, you would only be able to bring an action if you had trademarked your company name and/ or logo. A trademark which is registered shall be protected for 10 years, however you can choose to renew this to offer a further 10 years’ protection upon the first 10 years expiry.

If you, or your company are the creators of a new invention or product then you would be strongly advised to apply for a patent, these are often obtained with the assistance of a specialist patent agent. The first stage for any individual or company whom create a new product or concept is to do a search on the patent registry for a similar product as one may already be registered in the UK or elsewhere. Although the UK has decided to leave the European Union, the UK is still a part of the European Patent Organisation (EPO). To obtain patent rights an application can be filed either directly with the UK patent office, the EPO, or even under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), of which the UK is a member. A patent will exist for 20 years from the original application date.

A registered design right is an alternative intellectual property right for protecting new products. A registered design right offers a sole right for the use and benefits attached to the design right. A register design right is different from a patent in that a design right will protect new designs for manufactured items, whereas a patent will protect a new invention. The Registered Designs Act 1949 is the governing piece of legislation regarding design rights, it defines a ‘registered design’ under s1(2) as: “…the appearance of the whole or part of a product resulting from the features of, in particular the lines, contours, shape, texture and/or materials of the product itself and/ or its ornamentation”. A registered design right lasts for 25from the registration date.

An alternative form of intellectual property protection, which is often relied upon by businesses and individuals alike who have omitted to register their product, is the legal principle of unregistered design right. An unregistered design right protects three-dimensional objects only and prevents the commercial replication of such articles. Unlike the previous rights afforded to products, it is granted automatically, does not require registration.  An unregistered right will last for 10 years in most cases, up to a maximum of 15 years.

Trade secrets are distinct from intellectual property rights as they are protected and governed under the law of equity, they are not regarded as property. Trade secrets are not governed by one piece of legislation their protection has developed through precedence and there now exists two separate claims which may be pursued, these are (i) a tort of misuse of private personal information; and (ii) the equitable remedy of breach of confidence in commercial or technical secrets.


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2 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Renee Quinn]
    Renee Quinn
    March 8, 2017 11:43 am

    Gee, Thank you for your comment. The author reached out to me with a few edits, which I believe will address your comments.

  • [Avatar for Gee]
    March 7, 2017 11:05 am

    This article is muddled as it relates to registered designs and design right. Firstly it states “A registered design right offers a sole right for the use and benefits attached to the design right and lasts 25 years from the registration date” and then in the same paragraph we have “A design right will last for 10 years in most cases, up to a maximum of 15 years”. So which is it?

    The penultimate paragraph then asserts about unregistered design right: “Unlike the previous rights afforded to products, it is granted automatically, does not require registration and lasts indefinitely.” This is simply wrong. UK unregistered design right certainly doesn’t last indefinitely. It protects the design for 10 years after the earliest of first sale or 15 years from creation (ie as already mentioned in the paragraph about registered designs).

    Also, the term of copyright protection depends on the type of work – it is not always 70 years as suggested here.