Eight months ago, I had heard of patents, trade marks, and copyrights, but I didn’t know what they were or their differences. Since joining Michael Buck IP as a trainee patent attorney, I have plunged head-first into the exciting world of intellectual property. If you have developed some intellectual property and think you might need some protection, then some of what I have learned may also be useful to you.
Patents: not just a new idea
One of the first things I learned was that your invention must be more than just a new idea to be eligible for a patent. It also needs to be non-obvious to someone ‘skilled in the art’ – a term used to mean an expert in the technical field of your invention. In Australia, it should also constitute a ‘Manner of Manufacture’, the meaning of which can be complex, but that can essentially be boiled down to the idea that an invention must belong to the ‘useful arts’ and not the ‘fine arts’, and cannot be something merely discovered.
Trade Marks: a sign of origin
Most people would have seen some mark indicating the presence of a trade mark (more commonly or also known as one word “trademark” in jurisdictions such as US and Europe) – the small TM sign, usually as a superscript at the end of some other word or phrase, or perhaps the encircled R, ®. But what are they for? The answer, of course, is a trade mark. While the specific meaning of these symbols can be saved for another time, a trade mark can be considered a mark indicating the source of a product or service. A consumer can see (or hear or smell!) a specific sign and know that a product is provided from a particular source (a specific brand or company, for example). Interestingly, a trade mark is usually only applicable to certain types of products or services, and there are extensive lists describing the various classes of products a trade mark can represent (45 different classes, each with hundreds of descriptive terms or phases). That is why, for example, the word ‘Dove’ has been used to represent soap and chocolate by two independent companies without conflict.
As well as patents and trade marks, there are other forms of protection for your intellectual property. In particular, registered designs are often not considered when developing a new commercial product but have many benefits. Though the term of protection is shorter than for a patent, a registered design is easier and quicker to apply for and provides protection for the physical appearance of a product. This protection is more than sufficient for many products, so seeking a complete patent may only sometimes be desirable or necessary.
Additionally, there is the more niche protection of Plant Breeder’s Rights and Circuit Design. Those working in the relevant industries should familiarize themselves with these forms, but the specificity of the protection means that other commercial areas don’t necessarily need to keep them in mind.
The unique thing about copyright is that there is no registration process; the work is automatically protected in Australia. As long as the authorship is readily identifiable and represents an original work (in form, not necessarily in idea), it will automatically be protected by copyright.
The possibilities for protecting your IP are comprehensive but often need to be better known to those outside the profession. Since beginning as a trainee patent attorney, my eyes have been opened to many possibilities. For someone wondering if they need IP protection, simply being aware of its different forms may make the process seem less daunting or stimulate ideas for new products or innovations.
Do you have more questions about IP? For advice for your specific situation and needs, speak with one of our registered attorneys on 07 3369 2226 or email email@example.com.