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Your intellectual property (IP) is a valuable business asset, as it is the expression of your business’ creations and ideas. Accordingly, you can control who can use and commercialise your IP when you have the applicable IP rights. In most cases, you gain exclusive ownership rights and can pursue legal action against those who use your IP. However, registering your IP can be a costly process to undertake, and it is not the only way you can protect your IP. Therefore, you need to plan appropriately and implement IP protections that suit your business. For some guidance, this article will go through four steps to protect your IP in New Zealand.

1. Identify Existing and Potential IP

Firstly, before you start applying for any IP registration, you need to determine the scope of what IP is valuable to your business and what is not. Depending on the kind of IP it is, registration can be costly. Therefore, it is crucial that you have clear goals and expectations relating to:

  • how long you intend to use this IP;
  • what IP you want to gain formal registration for;
  • whether any IP similar to yours already exists in the market;
  • what your business can afford;
  • how valuable your IP is; and
  • whether you want to licence your IP.

The steps below suggest potential ways to protect your IP, depending on how valuable these assets are to your business. Seek legal advice if you need help from an expert in the area.

2. Trade Mark Your Business Name and Logo

Customers will identify your business through its name or logo, so these are essential assets for your brand and reputation. If someone else copies them or attempts to pass themselves off as your business, you can lose customers and brand worth. Notably, you can apply to register these aspects as trade marks (if they are sufficiently original and distinct enough), which means that you can pursue infringing parties for trade mark infringement.

When you register your business as a company, note that this registration does not protect your company name against copying or similar infringement, like trade mark registration does. Other companies cannot register an identical name, but they can register similar ones, leading to confusion for your customers.

If you gain registration for your trade marks, you can legally pursue anyone who tries to copy or profit from them. However, you may also have protections for business names or logos if they qualify as unregistered trade marks. If you want to enforce an unregistered trade mark against another party, you need to establish enough goodwill and recognition in the mark itself first.

You can indicate trade mark protections with the ™ symbol for unregistered trade marks. If you have a registered trade mark, you can use ®.

3. Protect Your Unique Products and Inventions

Once you have sorted protections for your business’ brand, you should also look into protections for what you create. You want to protect your and your employee’s ideas and the content you create for your business. These may include:

  • products themselves;
  • products’ appearance and design;
  • innovations and inventions;
  • reports and statistical data;
  • software;
  • written or designed content; or
  • artistic works.

Patents can protect inventions, and design rights can protect the unique appearance of your products. If you apply to register these rights, you can prevent others from:

  • using your products;
  • copying your products;
  • making your products; or
  • profiting off of your products.

For original works, copyright provides inherent IP rights as well. Therefore, it is important that you know what work that your business creates qualifies as copyrighted work.

Note that some kinds of IP registration can take a long time to complete, so you should apply as early as possible.

4. Secure Confidential Information

Some of your IP may not necessarily be rights that you need to apply to register, such as trade secrets and other confidential information. The law provides mechanisms to discourage people that may infringe on this kind of IP. However, you should also implement your own contracts and practices to avoid potential issues. In addition, any confidential information should have adequate security measures, particularly if you store it in online databases or send it via digital means. 

Leading on from that, when you do share trade secrets or other kinds of confidential information, you should bind the other party with a confidentiality agreement or clause to protect your interests.

For example, you should include a confidentiality clause in employment agreements where employees use your business’ secret and unique processes to do their work.

Key Takeaways

The exact nature of what you need to do to protect your IP will depend on what kind of IP it is and how much you are willing to invest into this asset. It is best to start with a plan detailing the scope of your intended IP protections and seek legal advice from an IP expert to aid the process. If you would like more information or help with protecting IP at your business, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is intellectual property?

Exact definitions can vary, but intellectual property generally refers to ‘creations of the mind’. For your business, these are ideas and original works that bring value to your activities, such as your logo or the written work you create.

How can I protect my intellectual property?

How you protect your intellectual property will depend on what kind it is. For original works, copyright exists as an inherent IP right. For other kinds, like trade marks, you will need to register this with the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ).

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