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When owning assets for your business, you protect them according to their importance and location. For example, you lock up your physical store before you leave and implement encryption measures for your website and online data. Intellectual property (IP) rights function similarly, providing legal protections for intangible business assets based on your ideas and creations. If another business uses or copies your IP without your permission, you can lose customers and business value. Therefore, you should be proactive and implement IP protections before this happens so that you can protect your business interests. IP is a complex area, so you should seek legal advice where necessary. For some guidance, this article will go through five IP mistakes to avoid in New Zealand.

1. Failing to Take IP Matters Seriously

If you are a small business just starting out or only sell in a localised area, you may think that you do not need to worry about IP matters. However, the effects of IP infringement, such as someone copying your work or brand, can be devastating for your business. Customers may go to this new business thinking that it is yours, and you can lose brand recognition in the market.

Therefore, you should consider what IP is vital for your business and look into what legal protection options you have available. 

For example, people will identify your business by its name and logo. Therefore, you should duly consider registering both of these signs as trade marks. Then, if someone else tries to copy your name or operate using your logo, you may be able to stop them by commencing a trade mark infringement claim.

Furthermore, it is much easier to prove your IP ownership in IP disputes when you have an identifiable and registered right to own the property itself. Additionally, you should:

  • keep clear records of who created your business IP;
  • constantly evaluate whether your IP is bringing value to your business;
  • understand what the different kinds of IP are;
  • look into different kinds of IP protection available to you;
  • pursue potential infringement when you become aware of  it; and
  • always include IP clauses in contracts where you need them.

2. Using Inadequate Protection Measures for Confidential Information

Some kinds of IP are confidential, especially when you are in the development stages of creating new IP for your business. Therefore, you should implement measures to keep this information confidential, such as:

  • confidentiality clauses in employment agreements;
  • non-disclosure agreements for business partners; 
  • security measures to protect information storage and transmission; and
  • business policies to avoid disclosures without your permission.

Trade secrets are a form of IP that can protect your business know-how and way of doing things, which others may try to replicate. Therefore, it is important that you protect this knowledge with appropriate contractual measures.

3. Sharing New Ideas Before They Are Ready

If you are developing a product or service that relies on novelty and innovation, be careful not to share this with others before you are ready for market launch. IP novelty is a significant factor when applying for registration, so you must protect this novelty however possible.

For example, suppose you sell or distribute a unique design before you register it. In that case, the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) may reject your application because your design is not novel. 

Therefore, when developing new IP in this way, it is important to:

  • research the market to make sure it does not already exist;
  • not publish or promote your idea before it is ready; and
  • bind any partners or team members with non-disclosure agreements.

4. Relying On Default Rules With Employee IP

For any IP that your employee creates for the purpose of their job, you gain automatic ownership as their employer in most cases. However, this rule can get quite complicated in reality, as the lines between work IP and personal IP can get blurry. This is especially true if your employees work from home or let them use work facilities/resources outside of their job. Therefore, it is important that you clearly set out your IP ownership expectations in all employment contracts and ensure your employees understand their obligations.

5. Missing IP Renewals

When you register your work for IP rights, these protections do not last forever. IP protection duration varies according to the type of IP you have registered. Therefore, you must know when these end. That way, you can apply for a renewal with plenty of time to spare to keep your IP protections ongoing and valid. 

Note that for some kinds of IP, such as trade marks, you need to consistently use them to avoid your registered protections from becoming invalid.

Key Takeaways

IP is a valuable asset for your business, so you should take steps to protect it accordingly. If you would like more information or help with avoiding common mistakes regarding IP at your business, LegalVision’s IP lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 0800 005 570 or visit our membership page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property can refer to original works and creations of the mind. For your business, this may include your branding, know-how, or unique products.

How can I protect my intellectual property?

How you protect your intellectual property will depend on what kind it is. For example, for copyrighted work, this intellectual property right is automatic upon creation. However, for designs, you will need to register for intellectual property protection.

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