Understanding intellectual property

An idea can be a business’s most valuable asset. Whether it’s a business name, an original product or a portfolio of designs, your business will have intellectual property (IP) that needs to be protected.

It’s also important to understand how intellectual property rights work. Otherwise, you could find yourself in a lengthy and potentially expensive conflict with a competitor.

Protecting your business name

Registering a business or company name doesn’t automatically give you the exclusive right to trade under that name. However, if you register your business name as a trademark, no one else will be allowed to use it.

Protecting your domain name

Although registering an Internet domain name gives you the sole right to use that domain name online, it doesn’t stop others from using the same (or a similar name) elsewhere. You can protect your domain name by registering it as a trademark – as long as it meets the requirements of NZ trademark laws. The NZ Domain Name Commission is a great place to register a domain name and to find out if it’s already in use.

Registering a trademark

A trademark can be a logo, word, phrase, symbol or another mark that identifies your business or your brand. Find out if another business has already registered the same (or a similar) trademark to yours by searching the New Zealand Intellectual Property Office trademark register.

Safeguarding copyright

If your business produces original films, music, artwork, software programs, books or other publications, they’ll be automatically protected by copyright under Australian copyright law.

Deter potential copiers by including a copyright notice on every piece of work you create.

How to avoid your business ideas being stolen

It’s important to keep an original business idea under wraps as long as possible. Below are a few ways to prevent your ideas being stolen.

Wait before you make your ideas public

It’s not a wise idea to discuss, publish, sell or demonstrate your invention or design in public before filing a patent or design registration application. Make sure you have the right protection in place before telling the world about your great idea.

Use confidentiality agreements

Ask a lawyer to draw up a confidentiality agreement and ensure all staff, potential investors, and other parties of interest sign it before you disclose any confidential information. Even if someone has signed a confidentiality agreement, it’s still not smart to give away too much specific information.

Be careful who you speak to

Before talking to another person about your idea, research their credentials thoroughly. Look on the Internet for information about their career and double check by speaking with a few of their previous clients or partners.

Document everything

If you ever have to fight a legal battle, it will help enormously if you have written and dated proof of everything relating to your ideas.

Although it costs money to protect your business ideas, it will be money well spent if it stops someone from taking them and profiting on your behalf.

Next steps

It’s a good idea to consult a qualified IP specialist to get advice on whether you’re breaching someone else’s IP. They can help you determine if your IP is a trademark, patent or copyright (the most common forms), and if it’s already in use by someone else. You need to determine:

  • If someone else has better rights to it
  • If the same business name has been registered
  • If someone else has already applied for the patent or copyright
  • If there are currently any disputes around a certain IP
  • If your employer actually has rights to the IP and if you can obtain it from them

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