What is intellectual property law?
Intellectual property law protects the ownership and rights of creations. Ideas must materialise before they are considered intellectual property, for example, an idea to make an invisible cloak would not be protected, but once created the design could be. Intellectual property rights can be enforced through protections such as patents, copyrights or trademarks, which can be further separated into registered rights or automatically protected rights. Intellectual property that has to be registered include inventions under patents and company trademarks, whilst automatic rights include unregistered design rights and confidential information. The benefit of registered rights is that companies are often clearer as to their position in the case of a dispute.
The importance of intellectual property law
Competition is an integral aspect of commerce; thus, businesses must ensure they remain unique by preventing others from profiting off of their creations. Intellectual property is a particularly important asset in creative companies such as in the technology and life sciences sectors. Governing their rights as they invest in new products and attempt to increase their innovation is essential in aiding their continued growth.
A significant and ongoing case concerning intellectual property rights is that of Google v Oracle, which is a culmination of litigation that has lasted a decade. Oracle sued Google on the basis that Google had copyrighted elements of Java source code and implemented this in their android phones. Google’s defence is that the code is too functional to have protection rights and is subject to copyright’s fair use doctrine.
The trends affecting intellectual property law
“The number of patent applications to the IPO has decreased between 2018 and 2019, by 8%, while trade mark applications have increased by 12.9%. Following a growth of 304% between 2015 and 2018, designs applications are now levelling off, decreasing 2.4% between 2018 and 2019” – Intellectual Property Office
Consumer behaviour can negate intellectual property rights. The rise of the virtual world has witnessed an increase in the illegal streaming of films, television programmes and music from illegitimate websites, which infringes on the rights of producers and artists.
The focus of globalisation and international accessibility for many companies creates complexities in the legal aspect of intellectual property. There are difficulties in enforcing sanctions in cross-border disputes because there are multiple jurisdictions involved.
Brexit had caused concern for the law surrounding registered rights. It was unclear whether the patents and trademarks registered with the European Patent Office (EPO) and EU Trade Marks (EUTMs) would have an effect in the UK. Patent applications largely have remained the same because the EPO is not an EU institution. This means that patents made with the EPO still have the same legal standing in the UK as those filed nationally with the UK Intellectual Property Office and applications for patents are continuing to be granted by both bodies. However, EUTMs no longer have an effect in the UK. A comparable national system has been created which includes all previously EU registered trademarks.
The life of intellectual property lawyers
Intellectual property lawyers assist and guide businesses through the process of acquiring and protecting intellectual property rights. Clients seek commercial advice concerning protection of intellectual property such as product designs, advertising and licensing. Lawyers must further advise on the most commercially viable route to releasing and protecting a product in the market.
Litigation support is also required when intellectual property rights have been infringed or incorrectly granted. For example, the objection to a new trademark application which damages a business.