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Trademarks, copyrights, designs & patents

There are several legal instruments available to protect an individual’s or company’s intellectual property rights, with the most notable being trademarks, copyrights, designs and patents. Each of these instruments fulfils a different role in safeguarding the intellectual property.

Trademarks

The main purpose of trademark registration is to protect distinctive brands from any infringement attempts, ensuring that their image and reputation gained from the customers remains associated solely with the original brand.

As a result, trademarks are well suited for brands, product name, product logo or even a slogan, providing that these elements are used to distinguish a company’s offering from that of the competitors.

Copyrights

Copyrights are most commonly associated with the literary, music and artistic creations, preventing unauthorised copying and adaptation of the original creation. An example can be made of the copyrights issued for a movie which prevents others from copying and broadcasting the movie.

Designs

The protection offered by registered designs is related specifically to the visual appearance of the product / service in question. This could be a product packaging or a t-shirt design (among numerous other examples), effectively preventing others from using designs that can be argued to create a similar impression.

When it comes to the choice between a registered design and a registered trademark, the question of commercial use is highly appropriate. For example, a t-shirt manufacturer operating under own brand can also register designs printed on the t-shirt. While the trademark registered for the brand itself ensures protection against competitors who could infringe upon the good name and reputation of this brand, it is the registered design that prevents others from using the same or highly similar designs on their products.

Patents

Another form of intellectual property protection mechanism can be found in patent registration. Patents are focused specifically on the technical aspects of a new invention, providing their owners with a considerable level of protection against product / service copycats by ensuring that the underpinning functionality and / or mechanisms cannot be imitated.

In order to obtain a patent protection, an applicant needs to prove the uniqueness of the concept / technical underpinning and hence, it is best suited for new and highly innovative products / services.

It is also worth mentioning that the expiration period for a registered patent is typically 20 years and after this period, the technology can be utilised by other vendors.

Which IP protection mechanism is the best for me?

When it comes to making a choice between the most suitable form of intellectual property rights protection, it is always important to start with the assessment of what are you trying to achieve. Table below highlights the main purposes and advantages offered by these four forms of legal instruments, providing guidance on their practical use.

IP instrument

Purpose

Protection against

Suitable for

Trademark

To protect the uniqueness of distinctive brands

Brand infringement

Brand, product name, product logo, slogan

Copyright

To ensure the protection for the creators of original, mainly artistic, works

Copying and adaptation of the original creation

Literary, musical, dramatic and artistic creations

Design

To protect the unique appearance of products / services

Copycats seeking to use designs conveying similar impression

Product packaging, imagery used

Patent

To protect the technical aspects of a new invention, preventing others from imitating it

Product / service copycats

New and highly innovative products / services

Approaching the subject from a slightly different perspective, the table below summarises a comparative evaluation of the level of protection offered by these four legal instruments.

Trademark

Copyright

Design

Patent

Innovative technical solution

-

-

-

YES

Original piece of work (e.g. art)

-

YES

-

-

Product appearance

-

-

YES

-

Commercial perception

YES

-

-

-

Brand reputation

YES

-

-

-