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Physical business assets, like equipment or real estate, are typically easy to identify and prove that you own. But another kind of valuable business asset is intellectual property. This kind of asset is some kind of original innovation or idea, known as ‘creations of the mind’. If your business hinges on your unique idea or invention, then this is extremely valuable property. In some cases, you do not immediately own the idea if you do not take steps to protect it legally. Just like you can take steps to establish ownership of your business premises, you can do the same thing to establish ownership of your ideas. This article will explain how intellectual property relates to your business and whether the law protects it.

What Is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property (IP) is intangible, but you can still list it as one of your business assets. There are a wide variety of things that can be considered IP. Your business’ IP could include your:

  • business name;
  • logo;
  • slogan;
  • business products, including their visual appearance;
  • product packaging;
  • app’s software code;
  • creative works, like photos or pieces of writing;
  • inventions; or
  • secret recipes.

IP rights refer to your ability to use your IP exclusively. For example, you can legally pursue other people who use your ideas without your permission (or without crediting them to you). Like physical property, you can provide others with a licence to use your IP, or you can sell it.

For example, types of IP rights include:

You can also take steps to protect things like trade secrets (e.g. recipes or manufacturing instructions) or customer databases. However, in some cases, these rights are not automatic. You have to register some kinds of IP with the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) to gain these exclusive rights. 

Is My Intellectual Property Already Protected?

You do not need to register some kinds of IP with IPONZ immediately to protect them. You may have inherent ownership rights that the law grants. In some cases, you can stop other people from using your IP without your permission. Two key legal protections for unregistered IP rights are:

A trade mark is something that you can represent to consumers that acts as a badge of origin associated with your business. This can be things such as your business logo or name, and we recommend registering your ownership of this property with IPONZ. This then becomes a registered trade mark, which you can indicate using the ® symbol alongside your mark. But, you have some legal protections even if you do not register if you can prove that your trade mark:

  • has been in the market for a long enough time to build reputation and goodwill; and
  • is easily identifiable by customers as being associated with your brand.

Tip: You do not have to register your trade mark to use the (™) symbol with your mark.

Another way that the law already protects IP is through copyright. If someone else wants to use your copyright, they have to get your permission first. For example, this applies automatically to owners of original creative work, like:

  • artwork;
  • books;
  • website content;
  • computer programs;
  • drawings;
  • plays;
  • music;
  • films; and
  • sound recordings.

How Can I Protect My Intellectual Property?

Outside of the cases mentioned above, if you want the law to protect your IP rights, you need to register your IP ownership with IPONZ or take extra steps to ensure it is secure. 

For example, you could protect trade secrets or confidential development information with non-disclosure agreements to stop information leaks.

An application to register a design, patent, or plant breeder’s right involves defining your IP and paying the relevant official fees. IPONZ will consider your application, comparing it to IP that already exists. If it is unique enough or will not be confused with something already existing, they should approve your application.

Note that if you register your IP rights, this only applies in the country you register. So if you register a trade mark in NZ, that trade mark protection only applies in NZ.

Your unique ideas are valuable to your business. You should prioritise the costs of IP protection in your initial start-up budget if you are a new business. Develop a plan to protect your intellectual property, and look into your options. Otherwise, once your business gains reputation, you could run into trouble if someone else tries to pass off your ideas as their own.

Key Takeaways

IP refers to your business’s unique ideas and innovations and is an asset just like bank accounts or real estate. The law already protects some kinds of IP, but others need to be registered to be enforceable. That way, you can stop other people from using your IP without your permission. If you would like more information or help with your IP protection plan, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property is a kind of intangible property that your business can own, just like its physical assets. It refers to ‘creations of the mind’, meaning new original ideas and innovations that you create.

What are the different kinds of intellectual property?

Intellectual property can range from your business logo to the coding of your app. The kinds of intellectual property that you can protect are trade marks, patents, designs, plant variety rights, geographical indications, and copyright.

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