How can manufacturers protect their commercial assets?

How can manufacturers protect their commercial assets?

With an annual output of £183 billion (Source: Make UK), the UK remains the ninth largest manufacturing nation in the world.

Due to the immense size of the industry, it’s no surprise that the sector generates a considerable number of potentially valuable commercial assets which need to be legally protected – including inventions, innovative designs, brand names, and business identities.

Having the right type of intellectual property protection helps you maintain your competitive advantage and prevents people from stealing or imitating your assets for their own financial gain.

Whilst the UK provides a high level of legal protection and effective enforcement mechanisms for infringement, manufacturers should understand these protections, the process for putting them in place, and what steps can be taken if your intellectual assets are exploited without your permission.

UK intellectual property law grants creators or owners exclusive rights over their intellectual assets for a specified period – in some cases, up to several decades. For this period, you’ll be afforded legal exclusivity over your creation or investment, as well as protection against theft and unauthorised use.

There are four main types of intellectual property protection:

  • Copyright – to protect something you’ve physically produced.
  • Design rights – to protect the novel look or appearance of a product and prevent others copying or reproducing it without your permission.
  • Trademarks – a commercially recognised way of indicating origin and distinguishing your goods and services from those of others. This can include words, signs, symbols, designs, and even sounds.
  • Patents – for something new you’ve invented, that’s not otherwise in the public domain, such as a product, component part, or manufacturing process.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is the official UK body responsible for dealing with applications for intellectual property rights, including designs, trademarks, and patents.

The IPO website contains comprehensive information on UK law and practice, although when it comes to making an application to register intellectual property rights, it’s always best to seek expert advice and representation from a registered design, trademark, or patent specialist.

Kirstie Penk is a director with The Legal Director (TLD) which provides ambitious SMEs with experienced in-house counsel on a part-time, retained basis.

Manufacturing Matters asked her for advice on how manufacturers should protect their commercial assets.

She said: “It’s important to have an inventory of everything you’re trying to protect. So, at the top level, what is it that makes your business? Is it the brand name, is it the products you produce from an R&D point of view, is it a manufacturing process, the design process or engineering drawings? All these different types of things have different legal ways of protecting them.

“You should chat to a good generalist lawyer, or a specialist in IP, and say, “These are the things we’re wanting to protect, how do we do it?”

“Quite frankly, the route differs for different areas. Obviously, it’s things like trademarks for your brand, your business name, and the products you supply. Then there’s the products themselves which might be patentable which is a wholly different line of law in terms of protecting your inventions.”

Director at TLD Kirstie Penk

She added: “There’s also copyright protection you can get for example on instructions for how to use something, or a manufacturing process, and there are also design rights you can apply for.

“So, it’s very individualised depending on what it is you’re trying to protect.”

“What should also not be overlooked is your confidential information.  You may not be able to register a right over the information itself to protect it but you should certainly be protecting it from disclosure by your employees and subcontractors as a minimum”.