What online intellectual property do I have?
Whether you have a web-based business, like an e-commerce site, or a simpler online presence such as a Facebook or Twitter profile, you are likely to be creating intellectual property online.
Intellectual property means “creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce” (according to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO)).
Online intellectual property may include:
- Names and logos.
- Software code.
- Content, for example, website copy, Facebook posts, and potentially, tweets.
Protecting your name and logos:
The best way to protect your name and logo against copycats is to apply for relevant trade marks.
Unlike the internet, trade marks are country specific. To protect your name in Brazil you will need to register a Brazilian trade mark.
Here are some tips for protecting your name and logo,
- Know your name: Check if other people are using your name for the same or a similar thing. If so, consider if you must use this mark, or if you can find something else.
- Know your countries: It is expensive and time consuming to apply for and maintain trade marks worldwide. Focus on your key countries.
- Know your product or service: Trade marks are registered in relation to specific goods and services. The better you know your product the easier it will be to produce an accurate, focussed trade mark.
- Know your lawyer: Working with a trusted lawyer or trade mark attorney will help you to get the most out of your trade mark.
Protecting your content, artwork,and photos:
Content, artwork and photographs are primarily protected by copyright. Protecting content, artwork and photographs online can be difficult. You may remember the outcry over Instagram’s change to their terms and conditions which gave them much wider rights over user photographs than many thought appropriate. If not, check it out here. Copying is often key to infringing copyright. It is impossible to stop someone from copying your work, but you can take some practical steps to reduce the risk. Here are some,
- Know when you created the work and be able to prove it, for example by emailing it to yourself.
- Use a © notice to warn other people that something is your work, for example, “© 2013, Waterfront Solicitors LLP. All rights reserved”.
- Watermark any images, or use other methods to make it harder for people to copy the image, such as blocking right-clicking.
- The length of copyright and any registration processes will vary from place to place, so check with a local lawyer if you are unsure.
Protecting your software code, personal or open source:
Under some limited circumstances, you can get patent protection for software. This is something that you may want to look into if you are doing something new and inventive. However, generally, copyright will protect software. There are three main types of software,
- Software you own: you have done the physical coding.
- Commissioned: you have commissioned a developer to do the coding.
- Free or open source (FOSS): you have neither developed it nor commissioned it, but it is available for you to use without charge.
You need to know the licence terms to make the most of your software. What can the user do with the software?
- If you are licensing software to users: clarity matters. If there are restrictions on use, for example, if only registered users are allowed to use the software you should make this clear.
- If you are using third party code: what are you able to do with it? For example are you able to use it for commercial purposes?
For absolute certainty and peace of mind, it’s best to talk to a local lawyer, who can help draft terms and conditions tailored to your needs.
Chloe Taylor is a solicitor specialising in intellectual property at Waterfront Solicitors LLP in London, UK.