Basic information for understanding IP.
Definition of IP
Intellectual Property (IP) refers to exclusive rights associated to creations of the mind. Under IP law, intangible assets such as inventions, literary and artistic work, designs, and phrases, symbols and images can be protected. This protection can be obtained thanks to different kinds of IP rights (for more information go to section “Types of Intellectual Property Protection Rights“) like patents, trademark, designs, copyright, and enables their owner to earn recognition or financial benefit from their creation or invention.
Why Use Intellectual Property
Companies can increase their competitiveness in a variety of ways by dedicating time and resources to the importance of their Intellectual Property (IP) protection.
IP assets are a source of value for companies and also reasons why they should be managed as part of a business strategy. For instance, it can help to promote a company to a leading role in its business/trade field.
Besides being an important tool for providing legal protection for R&D and commercial rights, IP can be a useful information source for SMEs. For example, patents contain important technical information: A patent documents and concepts provide information about an invention that has not been published before. The applicant must describe and explain its invention in a clear and complete way with examples of industrial application and information about the technological context i.e. other patents in the same field. It also permits identification of the inventor and the patent owner. A patent classification system facilitates retrieval of patents within a specific technology field (click here for more information on patent classification).
Patents and designs will also indicate modern innovation trends. Knowing and studying the patent literature is therefore an effective tool to avoid parallel developments and R&D efforts in an overcrowded research field. Also, patent and trademark filings can give an insight into competitors’ marketing strategies. In other words, IP information is valuable in all aspects of company activity – research, development, manufacturing, commercialisation and overall management. The IP prevention is not only a modern approach but it´s a need for an entrepeneur who wants to be open towards the economy and society.
Patent information sources should be used by organisations in their research and development for any of the processes below:
- Investigating the “prior art” (see section “Types of Intellectual Property Protection Rights – Patent“) of a technology,
- Finding world emerging and cutting edge technologies,
- Identifying possible fruitful areas for research,
- Identifying areas where research effort would be wasted because of e.g. duplication, established dominance by other companies etc.,
- Finding possible competitors (reference to part 4.1.b) or partners (reference to part 2.4),
- Investigating existing patents for legal purposes e.g. possibilities of infringement,
- Identifying what is a right technology transfer/licensing opportunity (in or out). (reference to part 4.1.e)
- loosing the opportunity to forge business alliances,
- weakening a negotiating strategy,
- the possibility of arranging profitable licensing deals may be considerably reduced,
- business ability related to capital obtaining or investment finance may be eroded.
Types of Intellectual Property
Know-How and Trade secret
Trade secrets and Know-How are two kinds of confidential information which give a competitive advantage to businesses which hold them with regard to their competitors.
Trade secrets concern secret or proprietary information of commercial value. These are not covered by specific statutory provisions as other types of IP are, although there could be aspects of contract law, or employment law that might be relevant in a particular case.
The level of protection conferred to trade secrets varies significantly from country to country. The notion of secret is mentioned in the Commission Regulation No 772/2004 as being “not generally known or easily accessible”. Indeed, trade secret represents an interest for its holder, which is often a competitive advantage.
Trade secrets do not receive any protection from intellectual property rights, even though a doctrinal discussion exists on this issue and some authors consider trade secrets themselves as an IP right.
In any case, they could fall under the scope of protection of civil law and unfair competition law. In addition, some countries also provide penal sanctions for persons who fraudulently disclose an industrial secret.
Note: a trade secret or know-how may be kept by including appropriate rules in an employment contract or by using specific confidentiality agreements.
- The protection of product packaging is an example of the combination of several IP rights:
- The following guides are dedicated to biotechnologies protection:
- A difficult part of negotiations concerns the sharing of IP rights.
This guide addresses the issue of joint ownership.
Additional rights exist in specific domains. Please find bellow documents summarizing their main features:
Software and database protection: