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Whether your plumbing business is big or small, it is important to protect your intellectual property. You have invested your time and money into your trade and business, so you should protect your investment. Consequently, taking steps to protect your intellectual property will shield what sets your plumbing business apart from its competition. Therefore, this article will go through five steps that will help you on your way to protecting your intellectual property as a plumber. These will help you strengthen your brand and protect any unique intellectual property that you create.

1. Understanding Intellectual Property You May Come Across

If you work as a plumber your business may already have intellectual property. Intellectual property refers to original creations made by an individual or business. It is a legal right that protects your creative expressions from exploitation. It allows you to own a wide range of these creations under intellectual property rights, such as: 

  • patents; 
  • trade marks;
  • copyright;
  • designs;
  • trade secrets; and 
  • Māori intellectual property. 

As an owner of intellectual property, you will have a certain set of rights. These include:

  • exclusive use of your intellectual property;
  • an exclusive right to profit from your intellectual property;
  • the ability to regulate who else can use and profit from your intellectual property; and 
  • legal security.

As a plumber, you will most likely encounter trade marks and copyright.

2. Identifying Any Existing Trade Marks

A trade mark is an intellectual property right that protects any sign used to identify your business and separate it from competitors. Anything that you may have created that helps your customers recognise your business may be a trade mark. For example, you can register the following as trade marks:

  • your business name, 
  • your logo, 
  • a specific shape;
  • colours; or
  • sounds.

The purpose of a trade mark is to allow you to express your business uniquely without the risk of others copying it. So, you may already have trade mark material within your business. If you have not registered your trade mark yet, you may have unregistered trade mark rights. To have rights to an unregistered trade mark, you must be able to show that it: 

  • has a sufficient  reputation in the plumbing industry; and
  • is sufficiently recognisable as your brand by consumers. 

Essentially, the longer you use your trade mark and the wider reach your business has, the stronger your unregistered trade mark will be. 

For example, if your plumbing business has operated under its unique business name for a long time and your community recognises your business by that name, you may meet these requirements.

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3. Register Important Business Trade Marks

However, for stronger protection, you should register your trade mark. Registered trade mark protection is guaranteed once registration is approved, and you can clearly establish your ownership in a dispute. Conversely, you can only rely on an unregistered trade mark if you meet the above criteria. 

To register a trade mark, you must apply to the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ). You can apply on the IPONZ website. Notably, IPONZ is more likely to approve your application if your trade mark is new and original.

You can indicate to others that you have trade mark rights by using the ® symbol for registered trade marks and the ™ symbol for unregistered trade marks.

4. Make Use of Copyright Protections

Copyright is another intellectual property right that covers original artistic works. For your plumbing business, this may include:

  • your advert jingle;
  • pamphlets about your business; and
  • your website content.

Copyright can protect things about your business that your customers recognise you by. Importantly, copyright helps you prevent others from copying your work without your permission. This is because copyright exists in a work as soon as you create it, so you do not need to register it. 

Take note that if you have a catchy jingle or advert, not only will it attract customers to your business, but also potential copycats.

However, it is up to you to make sure others know that you have these copyright protections. You can do this by using the © symbol in any written works referring to your copyright, such as your advertisements. Additionally, if you find someone is copying your work, you can send them a letter informing them of your intellectual property rights and demand that they stop. 

5. Protect Your Unique Know-How and Experience

As a plumber, you rely on your know-how and experience to supply your trade to your customers. You may use specific methods or processes that are unique to your business, that your clients take note of and turn to you for. If these methods set you apart from your competitors and are a point of difference, they may qualify as trade secrets. These are a form of intellectual property, which you can protect with confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements. 

For example, you may ask your employees to sign a confidentiality agreement when you hire them so that they do not leak your unique methods to your competitors.

Key Takeaways

As a plumber, you can take steps to protect your intellectual property, such as strengthening your brand and safeguarding the content you create. Intellectual property rights like trade marks and copyright are parts of these steps. They will allow you to continue working on your trade, expand your business, and defend it if you need to. If you need help setting up your intellectual property or if you have any concerns, LegalVision’s IP lawyers can assist you. Call us on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do intellectual property registrations last?

Registered trade marks last ten years before needing to be renewed. Copyright generally lasts for your lifetime and then another 50 years, but this can vary according to what kind of work it applies to.

Are there labels to use with my intellectual property?

Yes, you can label a registered trade mark with the ® symbol. An unregistered trade mark can be labelled with the ™ symbol. Copyright material can be labelled with the © symbol. 

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