The rapid growth of the internet and digital communication methods has given users instant access to content.
This has led to a more widespread discussion about ‘intellectual property’ as individuals and organisations have sought to protect their rights.
There are four main kinds of intellectual property that can be protected:
• Inventions such as new products and processes
• Decorative designs, and designs for the appearance or shape of a product
• Names and symbols for products or service (e.g. trade marks)
• Original written publications, recordings and other material, such as websites, plans and blueprints, parts lists, catalogues, promotional literature, manuals, works of art, photos and other images and formats and layouts for publications such as newsletters, webpages
In some cases protection is automatic. For example, new text and images are automatically covered by copyright. However, other forms of protection, such as patents for inventions, require you to complete an application process and pay fees.
Database rights recognise the investment made in compiling a database – any collection of material arranged so each item is individually accessible, whether on paper or in electronic form.
EU residents and EU registered businesses who own database rights can stop someone extracting or reusing any substantial part of their database.
You do not have to register your database rights; they apply automatically and last 15 years.
Make sure you differentiate between ownership of database rights and ownership of the contents of the database.
Confidential information and trade secrets
Another, often unrecognised, form of intellectual property is confidential information and trade secrets. This can include information about your customers, products or services, pricing or sales and business strategies.
You need rules to identify confidential information and regulate when it must be marked as such, how it is kept, which employees have access, to whom they can disclose it (and in what circumstances), and how your employees know these rules.
If outsiders could come across your confidential information in the course of their work, they must sign confidentiality agreements legally binding them to keep it secret.