Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome to our collection of Frequently Asked Questions. Please note that the information given is necessarily of a basic and a general nature, and that there are many exceptions to these general rules.

Professional advice should be sought for any specific matter.

Corporate and Business IP
Do I need to consider IP before launching my business or new product?     

There is currently no legal requirement in the UK to apply for registered IP rights when starting a business or launching new products and services. However, filing applications for some IP rights after you have sold or marketed your goods/services may weaken the strength of those rights or sometimes render them completely invalid.

Even if you do not wish to file applications for your own registered IP, it is advisable to investigate whether or not your business activities would conflict with existing IP rights of others. This investigation is typically aided by performing various different IP searches, commonly called ‘freedom to operate’ searches. Ideally, these searches should be performed before commencing your new commercial activities. The results of an IP search can never provide you with a 100% guarantee that there are no existing conflicting rights or that you will not have any future IP conflicts with a third party.  However they will often highlight potential issues that may require attention before you commence trading. Such searches can also help make the process of applying for your own registered IP rights more efficient and cost-effective.

Dealing with some of these issues at a later stage may be more expensive and in some circumstances may have a negative impact on your business.

Could there be any IP issues with my business name or brand names?     

Before you start trading, it is a good idea to search for any existing registered trade mark rights that your company name may be in conflict with in the countries where you intend to trade. Ideally this should be done before you finalise your company name and start generating marketing material because the results of the search can, in some circumstances, require you to change or modify your proposed company name to avoid legal conflicts.

Checking that your proposed company name is available on ‘Companies House’ does not indicate whether it infringes another company’s registered trade mark. The consideration of existing registered trade mark rights is also applicable to any brands, logos or any other graphically represented ‘sign’ that you use in the course of trade to distinguish your goods and services from others.

If your business name, product name or ‘sign’ is identical or confusingly similar to one or more existing registered trade marks that cover identical or similar goods/services, then the holders of those existing rights may have the power to stop you using that ‘sign’ in the countries where the existing rights are held. The companies holding the existing rights may exercise this power regardless of whether or not you have registered the appropriate domain name.

If you think this may be an issue, it is worth requesting a registered trade mark search and opinion by one of our trade mark attorneys.

You may also wish to consider registering your own trade marks to help stop competitors using your business and/or brand names. Again, our trade mark attorneys can advise in these matters.

Could there be any IP issues concerning the way my product looks?     

Aside from the possible trade mark issues discussed above, it is worth considering whether or not there is any likelihood that the look of your new product will be in conflict with existing design rights. There are several different types of design right, including registered and unregistered rights, but all protect the appearance of a product that can result from its shape, contours and colours.

If your new product is identical in appearance to a valid registered design in a country you are trading in, then the holder of that registered design has the power to stop you making products incorporating that design in that country. Even if you modify your design very slightly so that it is no longer ‘identical’, the holder of the registered design may still have the power to stop you if your product does not create a different “overall impression” to the “informed user” of the product when compared to the registered design.

If you think this may be an issue, it is worth contacting one of our design attorneys. It is worth noting that certain shapes, for example bottles of well-known soft drink manufacturers, or car grills of well-known car manufacturers, can also be protected by registered trade mark rights, which in principle can be in force indefinitely.

Furthermore, if you believe that you are free to use your design, you may also wish to investigate whether the technical functionality of your product is in conflict with any existing patent rights. This is discussed in the next section below.

You may also wish to consider registering your own designs to help stop competitors marketing and selling products identical or similar to the design of your own products. Again, our design attorneys can advise in these matters.

Could there be any IP issues concerning the way my product or process works?     

If your new business involves making, selling or otherwise dealing with physical products or industrial processes then you should consider whether or not any of your business activities conflict with existing patent rights of others.

Whereas a registered design protects the way a product looks, a patent protects how it functions. In some circumstances, patents can protect software-related inventions. Patents protect industrially applicable inventions and may cover both inventive products and inventive processes.

If your new product or industrial process is covered by the claims of an existing granted patent, then the holder of that right has the legal power to stop you in the country where the patent is granted.

If you think this may be an issue, it is worth contacting one of our patent attorneys. You may also wish to consider filing your own patent applications for the inventions you develop or own to help stop competitors using your invention. Again, our patent attorneys can advise in these matters.

What is an IP Audit?     

An IP Audit is a review of the intellectual property of a company or other legal entity. The audit identifies registered and unregistered rights that the company holds and identifies particular IP-related issues that may require further consideration. These issues can vary from ownership problems, contractual implications, conflicting IP rights and areas of your business that might benefit from IP protection. The output of an IP audit typically comes in the form of a report accompanied by recommended actions to take.

Why would I need an IP audit?     

IP audits can provide a company key insight into some of the risks they may be facing by performing certain types of business activities. They may also spot particular areas of weakness or strength in the company’s business activities that can be bolstered or commercially exploited.

Even if a company is fully aware of all of its registered IP, or if they do not have any registered IP at all, an IP audit can still be very worthwhile. In many cases, companies are not aware of all the IP they actually have. Some IP rights, for example UK copyright and UK unregistered design right, exist automatically and can be used as part of business negotiations or help to prevent competitors copying your products. In other cases, companies may be under the impression that they own certain IP rights when in fact they do not. Sometimes a company using pictures, text or other materials in literature or marketing materials may not realise that these works are owned by third parties, who may in turn stop the company using those works or sue for using them.
 

How much do IP Audits cost?     

An IP audit can be tailored to your company’s needs, either focussing on particular aspects or addressing the business as a whole. They can vary in cost depending on the time taken to complete the audit and the level of detail you require. Typically an IP audit for an SME can cost between £2500 - £5000+ ex VAT, the variation in cost depending primarily on the issues found and the extent of the audit. If desired, Beck Greener can work to a specified IP audit budget and can focus on the areas of IP that are most important to you.