With any business, large, medium, small and tiny (the category I fall into), protection of your intellectual property (IP) is important. The correct protection will give much easier recourse should somebody try to copy your product, service or brand name and logo. Protecting your business is very much a case of Â better to be safe than sorry.
In Australia, IP protection is administered and managed by the government body, IP Australia (luckily their website is a great resource). There are three main types of IP protection youâ€™d consider; trademark registration, design registration and patents.
A brief summary and my experiences of each follows.
Basically the registration and protection on your business identifier or identifiers. Most commonly this is your business name and/or logo. However, things like colour (the Cadbury purple for example), sound (Harley Davidson famously tried this) or smell can even be registered. Unless you have something really unique to your business identification, registering your name and logo is sufficient for a small business, especially at start up.
Trademarks are really easy to apply for through the IP Australia website. Cost is about $ 300 for each trademark per class. A class is a product/service category that you register your trademark for. For example, with WASP Bags, I have only registered the trademark for class 18 which includes all sorts of bags as the other classes are not relevant. To find your relevant class, search the List of Class Headings. You can do different colours of the same logo in the one application, but any variations on the logo constitute a separate application â€“ and $ 300.
The process is easy to DIY and itâ€™s relatively cheap â€“ so you really should register your business name and logo as a trademark. For me, itâ€™s a non-negotiable. Thereâ€™s heaps more info on the Trademarks section of the IP Australia website.
If youâ€™re creating a new product, registering the design ensures people canâ€™t copy it and claim it as their own. For example, the form of an iPod would be registered, meaning competitors canâ€™t create an mp3 player that looks the same, it has to be substantially different in form. Design registration only covers the form (shape and look) of your product, not its functionality (this is what a patent is for).
The really important thing here is if you want to register you design, you need to file your application before it â€˜goes publicâ€™. The registration process does not have to be completed before you take it public, but the application does have to be submitted. Itâ€™s important to make sure your application is submitted before any market testing you may do of your product for example. Funny story, when I was working on the ProperPlates concept (a previous business idea that didn’t get to market), I put the design on a webpage for feedback. This was before the design was finalised or registered. My product designer saw it first thing the next morning, called me and frantically advised to pull the images immediately!
If youâ€™re investing the time, effort and money into designing a product from scratch, the ~$ 1000 cost is well worthwhile (that cost included an IP lawyer when Iâ€™ve gone through this process, the IP Australia site has more costings on it). As for whether you should use an IP lawyer for design registration, I have before so canâ€™t comment on the ease of DIY. Using an IP lawyer is certainly easier and less time consuming, but of course costs. Whoever is helping you with the design will probably have an IP lawyer they can recommend, worth having a chat and weighing up your options. Again, more info on the IP Australia site.
A patent is what you need when you a creating something totally new and revolutionary. A patent primarily covers functionality (as opposed to form), however, with functionality often leading to form, will provide some design protection. But youâ€™re best to just register the design as well.
By all accounts, registering a patent is complex, time consuming and very expensive (your will really need an IP lawyer for this). But, if youâ€™ve got something totally unique and revolutionary a patent is the way to go. Again, the folks helping develop your product, and an IP lawyer, will be able to advise you. Thereâ€™s lots of detail on the IP Australia website.
Thatâ€™s about it. The above is all based on my experience and knowledge which is far from comprehensive â€“ the IP Australia website is really good, so check that out for more complete and accurate info. My parting advice is to always ensure you have at least some IP protection â€“ a trademark registration at a minimum. If you donâ€™t register your IP and someone does rip it off, I believe there are options you can take, but they would involve the use of a lawyer which means lots of dollars â€“ a pain in the ass no start up needs.