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There are many good reasons: to stop people from copying you; to add value to your company if you want to sell it; to sell or license to a third party; to hold it in your armoury if you suspect you are going to be sued and want to countersue for example, Google has spent a substantial amount of money buying patents recently [3] ; even to reduce your tax bill in certain countries profits attributed to patents can be taxed at a lower rate [3] , [4].

However, in general, IP is a right to prevent other people from doing something; owning IP does not necessarily give you the right to do anything yourself. One school of thought says that IP is only valuable if you are willing to enforce or defend it, and the cost of such an action can be prohibitive.

Thus a patent application may be filed, and published but allowed to lapse, with no intention of ever enforcing it, simply because the step of publication will mean that should a competitor apply to patent the same or a similar invention, the patent office will locate your application and it will anticipate the competitor's application.

For example, successful strategies can be built around taking exclusive licenses—licenses that exclude even the IP owner from using the IP. One tactic to improve your competitive position can be to take an exclusive license under a patent, then either expand your range to include the patented product, or continue only to sell your own product, but use the exclusive license to prevent manufacture of the other by anybody else.

Maybe you are not an entrepreneur yourself, but have an idea that you would like to see it exploited—it could, after all, make the world a better place. You can publish it—then anyone who wishes can use it freely. But the big question here is, will they? Many inventors think that by publishing their ideas freely they are more likely to have them exploited; however, the converse is often true for example, in health care, where lack of patent protection is often cited as a major reason for not following up an idea T.

Panel 4: Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights

The reason is economic: most innovations require investment, and investors look for a return on their money. However, ideas that are released without any IP protection will often immediately attract competitors who can perhaps undercut the inventor for example, with economies of scale.

4 Main Types of Intellectual Property Protection | SaM Solutions

This decreases the likelihood of investment in the development of an invention which is often more crucial than the invention itself and increases the need for investment in marketing, etc. So what we have to consider here is that—even if you don't want to profit personally from the innovation—it may still pay to protect it so that it will see the light of day through other investors. Remember, IP can be licensed and what happens to the resulting income is up to the IP's owner.

And this is a point where it gets complex for scientists and others who invent as part of their employment. We will cover this in more detail in Rule You have a great idea but it's not patentable, or you have applied for patent protection but are worried that it may not cover everything, and of course the protection will expire after 20 years [5]. This is where trademarks come in to fill the gap in your protection.

Everything you need to know for Intellectual property all in one place

Unlike patents and designs, a trademark or brand can be protected with a registration at any time unless someone else has got there before you —you do not need to have kept your name a secret, and once registered the right will only expire if you stop using it or fail to renew it generally every 10 years. So, you can protect your invention with a patent and sell it under your brand, which is also protected. Once the patent protection expires, customers are used to buying your product with reference to your brand, and will hopefully continue to do so even though competitors may start offering rival products.

Just make sure your brand is something memorable and unique to you. Viagra is just one example of a trademark so closely associated with the product sildenafil that a good proportion of the market should remain in the hands of the trademark owner well after the patent has expired in this instance, if priced competitively. And you can be too successful: many people now use the trademark Hoover to mean a generic vacuum cleaner, Thermos for a vacuum flask to keep food hot, or Tannoy for a public address system.

Employers should not rely on assumptions of ownership

It can be very expensive in terms of lawyers fees to police such trademarks and keep protecting these names and prevent them becoming simply part of the language and hence devalued. IP rights are, generally speaking, national rights provided by individual governments to regulate activity in that particular country. In some cases there are bilateral and multilateral agreements for example, most of the world has signed up to the Berne Agreement, which accords the same level of copyright protection to foreign nationals of other Berne states that is provided to nationals of the state concerned [6].

However, for most rights, it is a national issue. In an ideal world, each incremental improvement would be patented in each national jurisdiction there are approximately countries in the world , along with the name you trade under, and every brand would be the subject of a trademark, as would any color associated with your company and any sound you use, your products and their packaging would be the subject of registered designs, and your patent attorneys would be very wealthy! In the real world it is essential to be realistic.

A patenting regime covering more than the US, Europe, and a handful of other countries is a rare sight outside the realms of very large companies such as big pharma , and even many big companies restrict themselves to key markets. The world of IP is a big one. It's controversial, as it has a huge impact on international relations and trade. It's also controversial for political reasons, as many people feel that aggressive protection stifles the utility of products that have the potential to do good in the emerging world again, for example, big pharma.

The World Intellectual Property Organization WIPO is the United Nations agency dedicated to this area [7] , and it's worth considering its overarching aims, which include reducing the knowledge gap between developed and developing countries, and ensuring that the IP system continues to effectively serve its fundamental purpose of encouraging creativity and innovation in all countries. Of course, many question the value to society of IP, or at least the expansion of IP, in promoting creativity and innovation.

The Public Library of Science describes itself as a driving force of the open-access movement, and accordingly, unlike many copyrighted works, this article may be copied without seeking permission, provided that the original authors and source are cited. It can be hard, for example, to defend the extension of copyright from 50 years after an author's death to 70 years on the grounds that the extra 20 years of protection is in any way likely to encourage creativity. Whatever your thoughts on IP, it is worth bearing in mind that others may disagree. As a scientist and innovator you may be driven by many ideals: to make the world a better place, perhaps, or to buy yourself a yacht—we are all different.

Employer and employee ownership of intellectual property: Not as easy as you think

But like it or not, if you want to commercialize your ideas you cannot avoid the issue of IP, and we go back to Rule 1 here—get professional advice. Even if your aim is totally philanthropic you may still need to invest to protect your innovation, perversely because this is what will give it the biggest chance of actually succeeding.


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Simply make sure you tell your patent attorney what your ultimate aims are. There is an old maxim that says a secret shared is not a secret anymore. While a secret shared under a non-disclosure agreement NDA —documents most people have heard about but probably never read—ought to stay secret, discussing an invention under the umbrella of confidentiality is no substitute for being able to freely discuss or publish an idea that is protected by a patent application.

Obviously, once your idea is published by a journal it is too late to file a patent application—your invention has been made available to the public. However, earlier in the publication cycle the situation is different. If you send a paper to a journal for submission, it will excluding open review be treated as a confidential disclosure to the publisher and the reviewers.

In summary, novelty is key to patentability and your own disclosures count against you, so remember to file a patent application before telling anybody who is not bound by confidence. Regarding patents, the economic reasoning behind the system is an exchange between you and the public. The government allows you a monopoly, and your side of the bargain is to disclose fully your invention so that once your 20 years of protection is up, it can be freely exploited for the good of society. A patent can provide you with a year government approved monopoly.

However, some ideas cannot be patented and indeed, some innovators don't want to patent their ideas. All is not lost here, however, as we fall back on an older idea and one much beloved of thriller writers: the trade secret. If you really can keep a secret, your monopoly on an idea or product may never end. But once the genie's out of the bottle, like a champagne cork, you won't get it back in and you are unlikely to extract sufficient damages from whoever breaches confidentiality. Thus, if you have an idea that cannot be reverse engineered, you do not have to enter into the patent bargain.

Trade secrets are free—just prevent the secret being disclosed. But bear in mind that that this can be very difficult indeed, but not impossible.

Rule 2: Know Your (Intellectual Property) Rights

Famous successful examples include the recipe for Coca-Cola and the formulation of the alcoholic beverage Chartreuse, which is only known by two monks. If you discover something whilst working as an employee e. Generally, the employer will have first call on the invention, but may have clauses that will return rights to the individual if it is not exploited within a certain time—in some countries this is enshrined in law [8]. Ownership of IP is a minefield, and can be particularly difficult in an academic setting where numerous complicating features are involved.

Universities, as employers, are likely to have a right to their employees' inventions; funding bodies may make their own claim; inventorship is not like authorship—the people whose names are on an academic paper are unlikely all to be inventors; and in cross-border collaborations, national laws on ownership may well be in competition with each other.

One complicating factor that is often encountered is joint ownership: if you can, avoid joint ownership; instead, set up a company to own the IP and license it to partners if necessary otherwise you face differing national rules on what joint owners can do with and without each other's permission.


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If it is necessary to share IP, work out at the beginning who owns what, what rights each party has and importantly who will have the right to future inventions. In fact this is a common theme in several of our Ten Simple Rules: as soon as money rears it ugly head, strife follows, so it's as well to plan for dispute resolution right from the beginning. In summary, first, you can never act too early, but it's very easy to act too late. Patents aren't your only asset.

Invest in well-written non-disclosure agreements NDAs. Make sure your employment agreements, licenses, sales contracts and technology transfer agreements all protect your intellectual property too, right from the get-go. File as fast as you can. A patent application holds your place in line. You will have 12 months from that initial submission to expand upon your filing. And remember, US patents can take more than five years to issue.

Intellectual Property Protection

Investigate international patents if key competitors are outside the US. A US patent will not protect you against competitors in Europe, never mind China. Think hard about the future. From your vantage point, what does the future look like? Use this information to devise your patent strategy, and to figure out which of your work needs to be legally protected.

From there, your patent applications should flow. More from Inc. Sponsored Business Content.