Intellectual Property and Copyright Law

By Dominic Higgins

Branding

If you have a catchy business name or an established customer base; you will probably want to legally protect your brand. This is to prevent it being “hijacked” by other businesses that could poach your customers and damage your reputation.

Names, slogans, jingles and other representations of a brand can be protected under the Trade Marks Act 1994. You can take enforcement action if a business providing similar services to you uses your trade mark, or something resembling it, in a way that could cause the public to confuse them with you.

Trade mark and domain name registration are separate processes. So registering the domain name “www.rainbowmedia.com” does not entitle you to the trade mark “rainbow media” if someone else got there first. Similarly, owning the trade mark “rainbow media” does not give you exclusive rights to “www.rainbowmedia.com” or similar domain names. However, you may be able to prevent other businesses using such domain names if they are providing similar services to you and therefore breaching your trade mark rights.

This is a developing area of law and in the event of clashes between domain names and trade marks, many business opt to resolve their differences through negotiation. Some domain name registries like Nominet provide mediation services for this purpose.

Copyright

Copyright is legal protection given to original creative works. Graphics and source code as well as photos, songs and written works made available online are protected by copyright. Copyright is normally automatically assigned to the creator of the work. So if you hire an external consultant to design your website you should include a clause in the contract stating that copyright is transferred to you. However, if your website is created by an employee, copyright will normally vest automatically in your business.

Owning a copyright allows you to take legal action against someone who uses your work without permission. If the infringement takes place online, you can also take action against the internet service provider under the Communications Act 2004. However, in some cases there may be an “implied license” which allows people to use your work without infringing your copyright. This is where circumstances suggest you intended for your work to be used in this way by other people without expressly granting permission. To remove any ambiguity in this respect, you may wish to affirm your copyright in the terms and conditions of use on your website.

Database Protection

The Copyright and Right in Database Regulations 1997 create intellectual property rights in respect of databases where you have made a substantial investment in compiling or checking the data. The purpose of this is to allow people to enjoy the benefits of the time and money spent in putting together databases. This protection is automatically assigned to the creator of the database (of their employer). It lasts for 15 years in the UK and across the EU and allows you to prevent someone extracting or reusing part of the database without permission.

Intellectual property law has not kept pace with rapid innovations in the digital media sector. Therefore, this area of law contains much potential for confusion. Solicitors can advise you of the steps you can take to obtain maximum legal protection for the intellectual assets of your business.

About the author

In 2005 Dominic Higgins graduated from University College London with a Law degree. Dominic has previously worked as a legal adviser in the United Kingdom and South Africa and now works for Contact Law, a service which helps match clients with solicitors. To learn more about the different areas of intellectual property rights, visit Contact Law.

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