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Business and Finance

IP 101: a beautiful mine

Vanessa Barnett
Thinking of starting your own business but stumped by the legal stuff? Vanessa Barnett advises on protecting your intellectual property.

Meet Jo. She’s done the whole ‘city’ thing and has decided to launch her own business. Besides staying on the right side of laws and regulations, we’ll see how certain corporate structures can protect Jo and help her business grow.

She plans to start an online personal fitness hub called Fitness Match pairing up personal trainers and clients. Jo’s aim is to start small then expand into retail. Her vision is to sell fashionable yet high-performance trainers and accessories on the site and, ultimately, to promote her own fitness invention, a contraption that makes doing full press-ups easy.

Jo is still in the planning and ideas phase but there are still a few things to bear in mind. The most important is to protect her ideas, and there are some steps she can take to safeguard her plans and help prevent others from copying her business model.

Confidentiality

If no one else in the market is currently doing what Jo plans to do, there’s real value in keeping her idea under wraps for as long as possible.

There’s no automatic protection for an idea or business model. One way to safeguard her ideas is to ask everyone she shares them with to sign a confidentiality agreement. It sounds formal, but it can be very short and written in a friendly way. It also gives Jo the opportunity to add any other legal terms to the document that will help protect her, such as claiming compensation if the confidentiality agreement is breached.

There are also certain IP rights (see below) that can only be obtained if the item protected has remained secret up until the point of registration. This is the case for designs and patents, so will be relevant for Jo’s invention. She shouldn’t, under any circumstances, show the invention to anyone unless they’ve signed a confidentiality agreement.

Intellectual property rights

When it comes to the branding, design and content of her website, Jo is likely to be influenced by sites and services she’s seen in the past, so she’ll need to make sure that the finished product doesn’t infringe the IP rights of others (even by accident).

She should do a search on Companies House as well as a trademark search to be sure Fitness Match isn’t registered to someone else. The same goes for the domain ‒ check that .co.uk or .com are available, too. If all looks clear, Jo can then best protect her brand by registering her domain name, company name and trademark.

Keeping your content

The words, images and videos on Jo’s site don’t need registering ‒ they’ll be automatically protected by copyright. This gives her the power if needed to stop anyone else copying important elements. Copyright is a very powerful tool, but only applies if the material is original, so if Jo’s website were to ‘borrow’ from elsewhere, that would infringe the other person’s copyright and give Jo no protection at all. Having an original website with original content is key.

Copyright belongs to the first ‘author’ of the work, literally. If were to engage any third parties, be it friends, family or otherwise, to create the website or any other materials, she should make sure she draws up an agreement to have the rights transferred to her. If she doesn’t, she won’t actually own the embodiment of her idea.

Vanessa Barnett is a Partner at Charles Russell LLP. @vanessabarnett.

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