Intellectual property (IP) is a vital consideration for most companies, particularly as they grow and increase their business. However, creating and protecting your IP can be surprisingly difficult, particularly as you need to ensure you are not accidentally breaching another person or business’ IP. For instance, if you want to protect a new brand name or slogan, it is essential to know if another business has already done so. This article will set out the different types of IP and how to avoid breaching another person’s IP rights.

Different Kinds of Intellectual Property

Intellectual property rights protect the expression of your idea in something you have made or created. Intellectual property (IP) rights include:

  • trade marks, used to distinguish your goods and services from a competitor’s;
  • patents to protect your new inventions;
  • designs for the distinctive aesthetic of your products;
  • plant variety rights for new varieties in agriculture or horticulture;
  • geographical indications for wines and spirits that are characteristic of a particular location; and
  • copyright for your creative works like books, paintings and software.

Some IP rights may be registered, which gives you certain exclusive rights over your brand or innovation. However, other people and businesses can also register their IP, which would give them the exclusive right to use a brand or innovation. This is an issue if you are also interested in using one of those ideas.

Knowing What IP to Secure and How to Search for It

As a new or growing business, you will want to protect the IP that is key to your business. However, it is not always easy to know which IP you should secure. Usually, the first piece of IP that a business commonly creates is a business name. As such, you should begin by doing several searches of your name, or a word or series of words that are similar to your name. This way, you can see if any existing brands may pose an issue to you in terms of IP. You can also check for any notable slogans, logos or images that are key to your company.

Before establishing your IP, it is essential to search relevant databases or registers to know what other individuals or businesses have created or registered. Several different links may prove useful when you are looking to check for this IP. They include:

  • the Trade Mark Check tool to check if anybody has registered a name, slogan, logo or image that you want to use;
  • the Patent Search tool to see if a patent you want to register has already been registered; or 
  • the New Zealand Company Register to see if there are any other companies with the name you want to use.

Don’t Forget About Copyright!

A commonly missed form of IP to think about is copyright, which protects original work (whether creative, artistic or something like a computer program). To ensure you avoid copyright infringement, you should always create, write or design your own original work. You do not usually need to register this work, as copyright is automatic in New Zealand.

As a general tip, IP does not always need to be registered to be enforceable. If you are assisting or working with another business, ensure you check the IP clause in any contract or agreement to understand the limits on your use of that business’ IP. 

A Final Check: Google

As a last precautionary measure, you should also browse internet search engines like Google to avoid breaching another person’s IP rights. An internet search ensures no businesses are using your business name that have not sought to register a trade mark or company name. Third parties may still accrue “common law” rights in an unregistered trade mark.

If you have checked all of the above databases and registers and cannot find anyone with the name or brand you want to secure, this is a good first step. However, it can be complicated to ensure that you have located all relevant listings. Therefore, it is very wise to engage an IP specialist to assist with searching. You should then register your own IP as soon as possible. It is beneficial to discuss this with a dedicated IP lawyer or attorney when you do so.

Key Takeaways

Almost all businesses will look to protect their IP at some stage in their development, particularly as they grow larger. When you look to use or secure something key to your business, such as your business name or slogan, it is crucial to check whether you are breaching anybody else’s IP rights when you do so. There are many tools to help you ascertain whether any particular IP has been registered in New Zealand. You should check these, as well as Google, before registering your own IP.

If you have any further questions about securing your own IP or help to avoid breaching somebody else’s IP, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

FAQs

How would I accidentally breach another person’s IP?

If another person or business has registered a trade mark, for instance a name or icon you would like to use, you may be infringing on their IP if you then use that protected IP for your own business’ purposes.

Why do I want to register my IP?

It is beneficial for you to register your IP to safeguard your brand from being used by other businesses. You may wish to protect, for example, innovations or distinguishing features of your business. It will also help protect your business from counterfeiters.

What IP should I protect first in my start-up?

Most companies will secure their name as a first step. You can use the New Zealand Company Register to help check if there are any other companies with the name you want to use.

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