4 Types Of IP Protection For Online Sellers
In this article, we’ll explain the 4 types of IP protection: trademarks, patents, design registration & copyright.
Intellectual property (IP) relates to the creation of ideas and concepts which can encompass inventions, designs, names, images, literary and artistic works that make your product or brand unique.
As an importer and online seller, it is important that you consider protecting your particular work and/or ideas in order to identify and maintain your brand and products. IP protection generally falls into 4 categories where some are granted to you automatically, whereas others will require an application process.
- Trademark – Protects the names/logos of your brand or product
- Patent – Protects your unique invention
- Design registration – Protects the design/look of your product
- Copyright – Protects the things you write or produce (images)
This article will briefly outline the role each protection offers, and where you can go to find out more information.
A trademark typically differentiates the goods and services from one brand to another. It helps to identify your products and services and determine the experience your customer will receive. It can be composed of a word, phrase, image, sound, shape, color or a combination of these.
Owning your company’s domain name or registering the name at Companies House does not restrict others from using your trademark, although you will receive some benefit under common law. However, registered trademarks benefit from:
- Creating Brand Registry on Amazon and having the benefits that that offers
- Stopping others using your trademark without your permission
- Taking legal action for trademark offenders
- Allowing Trading Standard Officers or police to prosecute offenders under criminal law
- You can franchise or license out your product/service
- You can use the ® symbol
Trademarks are broken down into 45 different classifications, where classes 1 to 34 represent goods, and 35 to 45 represent services. It is important to make sure you register your trademark in each of the classes that represent the products/services you’re selling. This website will help you identify which class(es) you will need.
Before you register your trademark, you need to make sure it is clearly different from all other trademarks for similar types of products and services within the same classes and within the same territory.
- For the UK, you can start your search here (and find out the relevant forms and fees here)
- For the US, you can start your search here
To find out more:
If you create a new invention, then you might want to consider getting a patent. It only applies to something new and unique and can protect the way something works and provide cover for up to 20 years.
In order to receive a patent the product must be:
- Something that can be made or used
- New and never previously made public
- Inventive – not just a simple modification to something that already exists
As the product needs to be new and unique, it is critical that you search the databases and internet to make sure it does not already exist. Also, with trademarks, they can be confined to certain territories (UK/EU etc).
- In the UK you can find out more about searching for patents here.
- In the USA you can find out more about searching for patents here.
- In the EU you can find out more about searching for patents here.
- And, of course, there is Google which offers a basic patent search as well as a more advanced version.
It’s worth noting that applying for a patent can take a long time, and be quite expensive. In the UK:
- It’s relatively complicated. Only 1 in 20 applicants get a patent without professional help
- With professional help, applications typically cost £4,000
- It usually takes 5 years to process
…however, if you’ve designed something new that you want to be protected, many people argue it’s worth it.
In order to file your application you will need to provide:
- A written description of your invention: allowing others to see how it works and how it could be made
- Drawings: to illustrate your description
- Claims: precise legal statements in the form of single sentences that define your invention by setting out its distinctive technical features
- An abstract: a summary that includes all the important technical aspects of your invention
Once your application has gone through the process and meets all the requirements of The Patents Act 1977, you will be granted a patent.
It’s worth noting that there are also renewal fees that need to be considered from year 5 after application, which then increase over the term. Also, it is your obligation as patentee to monitor any infringement activities and take advice and action where necessary at your own cost.
In the UK and EU, when you create new and unique designs, you are automatically granted an unregistered design right which lasts for 15 years and 3 years respectively. Although in the UK this only applies to 3D objects whereas in the EU both 2D & 3D objects are covered.
It’s worth noting that when you only have an unregistered design right the onus is on the holder to prove an infringement has been made. They must then prove that they created the original design and that a conscious reproduction has been made, which can be difficult.
With a UK registered design you are granted protection for additional 2D designs for up to 25 years with 5 yearly renewals. You also do not have to prove any infringement and you can license or sell the rights to the design to interested 3rd parties.
Registering a design protects the product’s look. It includes the:
- Physical shape
- Configuration (or how different parts of a design are arranged together)
In order to register a design it must comply with the following:
- Be new & unique
- Not be offensive (graphic images or words)
- Not use protected emblems/flags
- Not be an invention (use a patent for this)
As with the other IP protections you will need to conduct a search of the relevant databases:
- In the UK you can look here.
- In the EU you can look here.
- Worldwide registrations can be found here.
You will then need to prepare up to 12 illustrations to submit online or by post. These illustrations should:
- Show the design as it appears to the eye, using photographs, line drawings, computer-aided design (CAD) or rendered CAD
- Show the design against a plain background, with no details hidden by shadows or reflections
- Not contain measurements or other technical information
- Not include anything that isn’t part of the design (for example, another object or your hand)
- Be the same type, not a mixture (for example, all line drawings or all photographs)
- Include the complete pattern and enough to show how the pattern repeats
You can find more information here.
Once you have submitted your designs, the Intellectual Property Office will review them within 2 weeks.
- If there are no objections, your designs will be registered.
- If there are any objections, you will have 2 months to respond and can request a hearing.
Once your designs have been approved, they will be added to the list of registered designs and made public unless you opt to defer the registration. If you choose this option, you will have 12 months before you must register the deferred application otherwise it will be canceled and you will have to apply again.
Copyright is a legal right that protects artistic and literary work from being copied and used by someone else.
In the UK, it is granted automatically to the creator for new and original work and can provide protection for up to 70 years after the author’s death. Once the copyright comes to an end, the work is then in the public domain.
The types of work that benefit from automatic protection are:
- Original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, including illustration and photography
- Original non-literary written work, such as software, web content, and databases
- Sound and music recordings
- Film and television recordings
- The layout of published editions of written, dramatic and musical works
Once you have created your work, you can add the copyright badge © along with your (company) name and year of production – although this is not required and doesn’t affect your degree of protection.
Once you have this protection in place, it will help to prevent others from:
- Copying your work
- Distributing copies of it, whether free of charge or for sale
- Renting or lending copies of your work
- Performing, showing or playing your work in public
- Making an adaptation of your work
- Putting it on the internet
You can also benefit from licensing or selling your rights although documents will need to be drawn up to show that an agreement has been made.
- In the UK, copyright law contains a concept of fair usage where, subject to some conditions, work can be reproduced without seeking the creator’s approval. More details can be found here.
- In the EU, copyright legislation can be found here.
- In the US, it can be found here.
Protecting your intellectual property can provide you and your business with many benefits. These include preserving your brand and identity, protecting any enhancements you make to your products as well as safeguard the text and images you use to promote them.
Also, from an Amazon perspective having a registered brand allows you to benefit from their Enhanced Brand Registry. This allows you to use improved on-site marketing capabilities which can make your listing stand out and give you an edge over your competition.