Niall Head-Rapson, partner and IP specialist from McDaniel and Co explains the rights designers and manufacturers have over the products they produce ...

Isn’t it always irritating? You work hard on developing your furniture, branding your products and promoting their new benefits and attributes. It costs a lot of money in research, developing tooling and process. And then someone comes along and just copies you. But what can you do about it?

A chair is just a chair, right? There are no rights in a table or a sofa.  And a name is just a name so what can you do about it? 

Well there is a lot you can do to protect your efforts and your unique work and in a series of articles I will tell you how. 

I will explain how you collect and retain your skill and effort, how you use Intellectual Property Rights and how those rights can help you protect your new ideas, your brands as well as reduce your tax and increase your profit.

Intellectual Property Rights are, in a nutshell, your ability to stop other people doing what you do. Some of them are automatic and some of them require formal registration. These are the apex of innovation which the Government is trying to stimulate by using tax breaks to encourage such development by way of Research and Development Tax Credits and Corporation Tax reduction by using the Patent Box. For example, did you know that in 2011 it was estimated that UK businesses invested £23b in design? That is a lot of money to invest without having any protection or benefit.

By harnessing these rights, knowing what they are and using them to your advantage, you can help protect and enhance your business. You can even use them to raise money by way of loans or use them as an asset in a pension scheme.

So what are these rights? I’ll give you an overview. They are categorised as follows:

  • Design right – this protects the shape of the product and sometimes elements of the product. It is a right that lasts for three to 25 years depending on how you protect it.
  • Copyright – this protects the patterns or surface decoration that adorn your furniture. It mainly protects two-dimensional rights such as textile patterns or ornamentation. However if you create intricate handmade furniture then you might also be protected. It will also cover your promotional material such as photographs, brochures and websites and lasts for the life of the person who created it and remains valid for 70 years after they die.
  • Trade marks – this is to protect the names of your products, the name of your business and the logos and the branding that you use. If you register them then they can last forever.
  • Patents – this covers inventions such as a new way of making something, an innovative mechanism or a new tool.  These last for 20 years and having one can cut your corporation tax to 10%.

We will look at each one in more detail in future articles. However the basic premise is that the rights can be split into two major categories – unregistered and registered.

Unregistered rights cover copyright (always), design right and in some cases trademarks and branding. There are no formalities for these rights, they arise automatically. The limitation to them is that in order to stop others it is necessary to prove that you have been copied.

What you will need to do though is make sure that you know how the rights arise and make sure you know how ownership happens. This will not only ensure that you know what you have, it will ensure that you can best exploit your innovations.
Registered rights are just that – there is a formal process that you need to follow in order to secure your right. There is a small charge for securing the registration but the rights granted are stronger.

Firstly, you get a certificate to prove you own the right and it is granted by Government. Secondly, the rights granted are stronger – you don’t have to prove you have been copied and generally, the rights last for a longer period.  For instance by registering a design, you can increase the protection from three to 25 years.

In the next article I will explain each of the rights in detail, how you own Intellectual Property Rights, how you protect them by registrations and how you ensure you own them.

Niall Head-Rapson