In a business environment of constant change, endless disruption and enormous innovation of products, services, technologies and processes, the value of strong protection of intellectual property (IP) has boomed.
It is vital to ensure IP rights are protected. In the short and long terms, IP rights can develop into their own revenue stream. They can also be sold to other players or licensed to third parties, or they can simply be utilised to set your business apart from its competitors.
In this sense, for an innovative business, the IP rights are likely some of its most valuable assets. And in a broader business sense, without IP rights in place, innovation could be stifled across entire industries.
It’s important to understand that many types of IP rights are not automatically protected. Just because a business does something for the first time, whether it be an invention, a name, a logo, a new process or a unique design, other businesses are not necessarily disallowed from taking that innovation and making it their own.
So some types of IP rights are automatically protected, but some are not. That’s why a deeper understanding of IP laws is such a powerful asset in today’s business environment.
It makes sense that business professionals, managers and entrepreneurs should now consider studying Intellectual Property Law as part of a Master of Business Law. At SCU it’s a 16-month, 100 per cent online, part-time degree that focuses on developing critical thinking and analytical skills coupled with deep, practical knowledge for the workplace.
Intellectual property types are broad and varied, from patents to copyrights and from registered designs to trademarks. In many cases, it is not advisable (and in some cases not even possible) to commercialise an idea without solid IP protection.
Let’s run through the types of IP, in order to give a better idea of how each might be relevant to your corporation, small or medium business, or start-up.
A patent is a legally enforceable protection that is either defined as ‘standard’ or ‘innovation’. It allows its holder to exclusively commercially exploit the new development for the life of the patent (typically up to 20 years).
There are some things a patent cannot cover. The business.gov.au website defines the creations unable to be patented as “artistic creations, mathematical models, plans, schemes or mental processes”.
A ‘standard patent’ offers long-term cover – for up to 20 years – from the day it is lodged. An application might take anything from six months to several years before the standard patent is granted.
An ‘innovation patent’, on the other hand, is for innovative ideas or creations that are not necessarily able to be defined as ‘new inventions’. This is quicker and easier cover – patents are typically granted in less than a month and last for up to eight years – to offer the innovator a fast, first-to-market advantage.
It’s vital to understand that the process of legally stopping others from copying an idea or an innovation is different for each type of patent.
Here we are looking at logos and names, phrases and sounds, shapes and packaging types, etc.
These are the things that distinguish and differentiate your brand from another – consider QANTAS’s flying kangaroo design, Cadbury’s use of the colour purple (or, more specifically, the colour known as Pantone 2685C), the ‘jumping person’ silhouette made famous by Toyota, or the ‘Happy Little Vegemites’ tune. All are trademarks and all are protected against use by other businesses or brands within their industry or product group.
But within trademark groups there are grey areas that are often argued, sometimes in courtrooms.
Does a colour, when seen on its own, really represent a brand? Can a shape be owned exclusively by a company? Does the way a common word is said or pronounced make it unique enough for it to be owned by a brand?
Trademark law is a fascinating area of study on its own, and knowing where the lines are drawn can add enormously to an IP professional’s arsenal.
While patents and trademarks require formal registration, copyright does not. It is instead covered by the Copyright Act 1968.
Copyright covers creative arts and includes music, writing, imagery, sound, film, computer programs and more. It prevents others from using an original work in an unauthorised manner.
A copyright notice is not necessary in terms of legal requirements in Australia, as copyright coverage is automatic. But it is seen as good practice as it offers a reminder to others, and to those in other countries, that the work is not to be taken and used without permission.
If a product with a unique visual appearance has a use that is industrial or commercial, it may be eligible for registration. This means the design will be protected against unauthorised use for up to ten years.
Drawings and images must be provided for a design to be registered, and the design must also be new and distinctive.
Circuit layout rights
Circuit layout rights protect complex integrated circuits and computer chips. Similar to copyright, circuit layout rights are automatic and do not need to be registered. They’re covered under the Circuit Layouts Act 1989.
Plant breeders’ rights
Finally, there’s a special type of IP protection for those in the agricultural field, which protects new plant varieties. Such developments are vital for an agricultural and farming industry facing constant changes in weather patterns and crop threats. Protection can last up to 25 years.
As you can see from above, the world of IP law is complex but vital to the successful management of organisations. Some IP must be actively protected, some must be argued with regulators and policymakers, some must be debated in court. Some, such as copyright and circuit layout rights, apply automatically in Australia but must be protected (or at least covered by a notice) in other territories.
Because of the numerous applications and interpretations of Intellectual Property Law, its study can add enormous value to the skills and value of a business professional. If they get it right, a business will likely thrive now, and in the future. Those that get it wrong will miss opportunities for innovation, disruption, and the development of new revenue streams.
Find out more about studying Intellectual Property Law and more with SCU Online’s Master of Business Law.