Manage intellectual property and legal protection risk

How to protect your intellectual property abroad

View transcript for Episode 10 - Protect your intellectual property abroad recording
Intellectual property, or IP, is often a company’s most valuable asset. Understanding how to protect it internationally is a fundamental part of your exporting strategy. There are different things you can do to help protect your IP, including patenting a product, registering a trademark to protect your brand, registering your design, and protecting your work with copyright.

Firstly, start by understanding what IP exists within your business and what this represents.

Secondly, make sure you’re not infringing anyone else’s IP in the new market. Carry out a trademark search online to see if something similar to your brand already exists.

Then investigate whether you can register the IP in your chosen market. Your patent, trademark or design may not qualify in all markets.

Decide whether you need a professional trade attorney. Your chances of obtaining a patent will be significantly greater if you use someone with specialist knowledge. Weigh up the value of obtaining a patent, against the costs involved, as part of your export plan.

Finally, register your trademarks and designs online through official websites. Copyright is free of charge in the UK and is automatically protected in most countries. But registering in-market could provide better protection.

What you’ll learn

  • the different types of intellectual property
  • whether you're automatically covered in your target market if you're covered in the UK
  • when you'd need the help of a professional trade attorney

What is your intellectual property? 

Intellectual property is often a company’s most important and valued intangible asset.

It's often expressed in different bundles of intellectual property, which can be protected. These include:

  • patents, which protect any invention, product or process that offers a new way of doing something or gives a new solution to a problem
  • trademarks, which help separate your product or service from your competitors
  • design rights, which cover the ornamental or aesthetic look of a product
  • copyright, which covers original works of art, music, writings, paintings, computer programmes, databases
  • trade secrets or know-how, which protect your product’s formulas, designs or other compilations of information that can’t be easily figured out and have in-built economic value

Exporters do not usually realise the importance of IP protection – until their product or service has been copied or infringed by someone else in a market.

International trade adviser

Protecting your IP should be a fundamental part of your exporting strategy. Even if you’ve protected yourself in the UK, you’re not automatically protected in other countries abroad. Follow these steps to reduce your risk:

  1. Start by understanding what IP exists within your business

    Document it, and think about what this represents to your business.

  2. Make sure you're not infringing on someone else’s IP in your chosen market

    Carry out a trademark search through the relevant intellectual offices of the market, to see if a similar trademark to your brand already exists. The search can be carried out online through government websites.

  3. Check if you can register the IP in your chosen market

    Remember, IP protection is territorial in a given country. In most countries, the ‘first to file’ system exists, so act early before someone else does. Getting IP rights varies from country to country. Your patent, trademark or design may not qualify for protection in all the markets you're interested in.

  4. Decide whether you need a professional trade attorney

    Your chances of getting a patent will increase if you use an attorney, as specialists skills are needed. Look at the commercial value to your business alongside the costs of getting a patent, as part of your decision-making process.

    Sometimes, you can register trademarks and designs yourself, but attorneys can help too, particularly in certain markets. Seek professional advice before you act.

  5. Register your IP online

    Trademarks and designs can be registered online through government IP office websites.

    Copyright is free of charge, and is automatically protected in most countries. But in some countries, registering copyright in-market can provide better in-market protection.

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