Intellectual property (IP) rights are often the most valuable assets of any business, but what happens when a potential dispute arises? While this is always a cause for concern, early discussion will put the issues it raises into proper context and underline your rights, whether you are enforcing or defending IP.
Many companies, institutions, family businesses and creative individuals own valuable IP rights which must be protected and enforced. These might include patents, trade marks, designs and copyrights. Sometimes their actions may infringe the IP of other parties, whether inadvertently or otherwise.
IP rights only remain valid on condition that they are enforced against infringers who misappropriate them. Remedies available include damages, recovery of profits or court orders halting the infringement. In most cases, however, IP disputes are resolved without the need for court action.
IP is everywhere
Patent disputes generally concern technologies, inventions and processes and are often very expensive for many companies. Trade mark actions are necessary, however, if branding rights are to be preserved. As with copyright, they often relate to infringements on the internet or social media. Even if a party does not own any registered trade marks or designs, claims may be brought for “passing off” or unregistered design right.
Are the courts the only option?
Not all IP disputes result in court action. They can often be resolved by negotiation with the other party. If the case is suitable, an appropriate settlement may be reached, sometimes making use of mediation or another alternative dispute resolution technique.
IP disputes are often avoidable at the outset if the owner has a good understanding of the IP it owns, and the scope of protection it offers. It is essential to clarify IP ownership and entitlement (it is not always clear who owns copyright and other non-registered rights), and evaluate what IP rights competitors are able to claim at the outset.
If an owner is licencing or selling IP or implementing other contractual rights that involve IP, it is essential that all agreements are executed accurately and reflect valid ownership of the IP in question to avoid costly arguments later.
What actions should I take to resolve an IP dispute?
- Be especially careful if you intend to contact any party who you think is misappropriating your IP rights by yourself. There are circumstances in which making groundless threats of IP infringement is illegal
- Keep records of use of your trade marks that show the turnover of goods and services that the trade marks relate to and the advertising expenditure year on year
- Preserve information showing dates of creation of all commercial designs, valuable copyright works and unregistered trade marks
- If you are threatened with IP infringement proceedings, offer no undertakings, assurances or admissions until you have obtained legal advice.
IP disputes do arise often and sometimes unexpectedly. They do however always demand specialist expertise. TWM Solicitors has the ability to assist clients who need to enforce their IP or defend a threatened legal action.
For more information on all IP matters, please contact Laurie at email@example.com.