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Establishing and building your own business is hard work. So, it is important that you protect the brand and intellectual property you create. You can take steps before and after you launch your business to protect your idea from others. These include building a strong brand that is recognisable and unique and then putting it out into the world without losing your ownership. This article will provide you with four tips to stop others from copying your business idea. 

1. Register Your Intellectual Property 

Your business ideas can qualify as intellectual property (IP), which grants you various legal rights. The different types of IP in New Zealand are:

  • patents;
  • designs; 
  • trade marks; 
  • copyright; 
  • plant variety rights; and 
  • Māori IP.

You can register all of these with the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ), except for copyright protection which applies automatically. It is a good idea to register your IP for many reasons, as you gain:

  • the exclusive right to use your IP;
  • the exclusive right to determine who else can use your IP; and 
  • enforceability if someone infringes on these rights.

You can search the IPONZ website to determine which category your IP might fall under. One thing to note is that some of the applications require your IP to be secret before applying. Therefore, it is best practice to not share your IP before determining the eligibility requirements for your IP.

2. Check That Your Brand Is Unique and Original

The less unique and distinguishable your business idea is, the more difficult it is to prove that someone is copying it. Therefore, you must do appropriate market research to determine whether your idea is original enough to qualify for IP rights.

The IPONZ website has tools that allow you to search other business’ registered intellectual property. For example, you can find other business’ trade marks and patents. Additionally, you can check registered business names on the New Zealand Companies Office (NZCO) website. 

You should also use the trade mark check tool on the IPONZ website. This allows you to check for registered trade marks, as well as trade marks pending approval. You can search by name, slogan, word or image. Additionally, you can also search for patents on the IPONZ website, as they keep a database of all registered patents in New Zealand. You can conduct a general search, or a specific search if you know the patent you are looking for. Lastly, the NZCO website allows you to search company names in New Zealand. This can help you ensure that you are the only business trading under your name. The search will provide you with:

  • a list of companies with the same name;
  • a list of companies with similar names; and
  • the company’s current status.

3. Keep Your Brand Secrets Secret

If you want to protect your business idea, it is best to keep it a secret until necessary. This will give you the best chance at registration. Additionally, there are some ideas that you must keep secret, as you cannot register them. These include trade secrets. Trade secrets are practices that your business implements to give it a competitive edge. This may include a:

  • formula; 
  • method;
  • process; 
  • recipe; or 
  • piece of information. 

To protect these trade secrets, you must find ways to ensure that those who know them do not share them. This may mean a confidentiality agreement or a non-disclosure agreement. You must also be selective about who you share these secrets with.

4. Appropriate Contracts

If you want to develop or profit from your business idea, you may need to work with others. This may mean you need to give them permission to access and use your IP. 

For example, if you have an idea for an app, but you are not an app developer, you may need to employ someone to put your idea into action. However, you do not want to risk them copying your idea.

When sharing your business idea with others, having registered IP rights can help. Nonetheless, well-drafted contractual agreements can also protect your business ideas. Some of these include:

  • non-disclosure agreements;
  • employment agreements;
  • software agreements; or
  • intellectual property/confidentiality clauses as part of a wider contract.

It is important to note that it is always best to seek legal advice when writing a contract to ensure that your contract protects your IP as intended.

Key Takeaways

If you have a new business idea, you can take steps to protect your brand from individuals seeking to copy it. For example, you can use the various IP search tools to ensure your brand is unique, and register your IP rights. You can also use contractual protections to protect your valuable trade secrets. If you need assistance with your new business idea, LegalVision’s experienced intellectual property lawyers can help. Call us on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I register all kinds of intellectual property?

You can register most kinds of intellectual property through IPONZ. However, you cannot register copyright or trade secrets. Copyright is automatic in New Zealand, and you must keep trade secrets confidential to protect them.

How much does it cost to register intellectual property?

The costs of registering intellectual property vary depending on the type. You can get specific information about costs on the IPONZ website. 

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