How EU law is making it easier to assert Intellectual Property rights

For many companies, intellectual property (IP) is about more than just protecting ideas or concepts. It is about safeguarding integral assets that may sculpt and define their future success.

Intellectual property comes in a number of forms, with the four basic types being patents, designs, copyright, and trademarks. If a business does not register a patent protecting an invention that will be a key asset moving forward, they could find themselves in serious trouble.

Major news stories constantly remind us of intellectual property’s importance. Take Apple’s recent $539 million payoff from Samsung for patent infringement damages. If Apple did not register a patent for the design of their phones, they would never have successfully challenged Samsung. The South Korean mega corporation would have continued to use these designs to the detriment of Apple’s success.

If you, like Apple, have inventions that are critical to your success, you need to get them patented. This is a long and complex process, so it may be worth looking towards an external company to do this on your behalf. Here at Global Voices, we can help register a patent for you, so you don’t have to waste precious time and effort doing so yourself.

While UK law offers stringent protection in the form of various IP rights, the EU is attempting to extend the scope of these protections. This should make it easier than ever for businesses to assert their IP rights and safeguard their ideas. Here, we will look at some of the ways EU law is achieving this.

The EU Trade Secrets Directive

The UK government published draft regulations to implement the EU Trade Secrets Directive into law earlier this year. The protection outlined in the directive is aimed at protecting trade secrets, and is therefore separate from the four typical types of intellectual property, so extends the power businesses have to assert IP rights and safeguard their ideas.

Trade secrets has a broad definition and can encompass any confidential business information that gives a company a competitive advantage. Think Coca Cola’s recipe or KFC’s secret 11 herbs and spices. Trade secret rights can help to protect a number of different secrets, including confidential information about a product launch, improved recipes, and customer lists. They also offer infinite protection, unlike patents’ maximum 20-year terms.

Whether a business needs a patent or trade secret protection on an idea depends on what the idea is. If it can be easily reverse-engineered, like the mobile phone design from the Apple v Samsung case, then it is definitely better to get patent protection to ensure that nobody else can copy this. If it is a recipe like Coca Cola’s or KFC’s, which are nigh on impossible to be reverse-engineered, then a business should look towards trade secret protection.

The EU Trade Secrets Directive helps to safeguard trade secrets by ensuring that their protection is enforced across multiple jurisdictions. Companies can now work on ways to keep such secrets secure, safe in the knowledge that they have a definitive course of action if somebody does try and find them out. For example, they can work on practical protection measures, like password protection, or non-disclosure agreements.

The Unified Patent Court

Earlier this year, the UK also ratified the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court (UPCA), an international agreement to set up a European Unified Patent Court (UPC). The UPC will rule on patent disputes, and will give inventors the rights to defend their patents in cross-border disputes via a single legal system across the EU. This is intended to make the system less time-consuming and more affordable than the current procedure. It should significantly benefit businesses by ensuring they do not have to assert their rights before the courts of every state in which their IP has been infringed. The system will be administered by the European Patent Office.

It is believed that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will have no legal consequences for the UPC due to the government approving the UPCA prior to Brexit. However, for the UPC to come into existence, thirteen member states must ratify the agreement, and key states like Germany are still yet to do so. The UK’s ratification represents a positive forward move, however, and hopefully, it will not be long before other states follow suit.

Legislation like the EU Trade Secrets Directive and the creation of a Unified Patent Court should help to strengthen the ability of individuals and businesses to assert their IP rights. With the importance of this highlighted, these measures can make a real difference to the fortunes of many businesses.

3 patent battles highlighting the importance of protecting your intellectual property

No matter what kind of business you run, having your ideas, designs, and technology registered as your own creations is an essential step in protecting your intellectual property. Regardless of the industry you operate in, or what sort of innovation you have come up with, registering a patent as soon as possible is an important process which could save you suffering legal consequences further down the line.

Unfortunately, since the dawn of the internet age, patent trolls have become a threat to companies of all sizes. These companies have been suing businesses for copyright infringement, having bought up a huge range of unrelated patents which are phrased vaguely enough to hold water in court. While these patent trolls have previously targeted major companies, they are now going after smaller enterprises. Startups who are sued by patent trolls may be tempted to settle quickly to avoid going to court, however, as Inc notes, “these [trolls] and their attorneys know one another…Once you’ve shown yourself willing to pay up, you could get more demands from other companies claiming patent infringement”.

Whilst patent trolls now concentrate on SMEs, major corporations are now all too content to start patent battles amongst themselves, which continue to rage between even the most well-known companies. Here are three of the more high-profile patent battles which have played out recently, all of which reinforce the importance of protecting intellectual property from the very start.

Apple vs Samsung: Who is smarter?

The first smartphone—that is, a mobile phone which doubls up as a personal digital assistant—may have been launched in 1992 by IBM, but the term really caught on with the advent of touchscreen technology. Since then, the two major players have been Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s phones that use Android OS. The first iPhone came out in 2007, and Samsung’s first smartphone—a precursor to their Galaxy series called Instinct—appeared the following year.

Chronology alone should suggest quite clearly that Samsung stole Apple’s idea, at least in part, and unsurprisingly, Apple were quick to take them to court. A lawsuit was launched in 2011, citing near-identical “user interface and design features”. This suit came despite the fact that Apple had invested a great deal of money in exchange for Samsung supplying core hardware components to their products, including various iPhones. Ironically, it was the similarity of these component parts to those used by Samsung which led to the suit, as well as disputes over the layout of icons on the screen and even the now-iconic design of the phones themselves.

The suit has dragged on until the present day, with the US Supreme Court ruling in favour of Apple, and Samsung appealing the verdict that they owe $539 million in damages.

BlackBerry vs Snapchat: When is a patent troll not a patent troll?

With a devastating 0.0% share of the marketplace, BlackBerry may have lost the smartphone war, eventually giving up physical production of its phones in 2016, but it continues to pick battles. Described by Gizmodo as “a veritable patent troll” in its current guise for having also attempted to sue Facebook, the company have turned their attention to Snapchat’s parent company Snap. The complaint is the same as the one they levelled against Facebook: infringement of “six patents including map improvements for mobile devices, advertising techniques, and UI improvements for mobile devices”.

Both Snap and Facebook have moved to dismiss the claims, noting that they are—much like claims made by patent trolls—extremely broad. Considering that Blackberry sold their design and manufacturing rights in 2016, Gizmodo’s accusation may, in this case, be somewhat accurate. The Verge also points out that BlackBerry are not alone in doing this, noting that “TiVo…still manufactures products, but makes most of its money through litigation and licensing patents”.

Tinder vs Bumble: Which side are you swiping?

Tinder may be the first swipe-based dating app, but Bumble has been hot on its heels. Its feminist take on online dating—only women are allowed to send the first message after a match—has been seen as a hugely positive step to “empower women” looking to meet people. This reflects the tempestuous behind-the-scenes story of the two apps. Bumble was founded in late 2014 by Whitney Herd, who also co-founded Tinder and left that company after suing her co-founder for sexual harassment.

A year later, the relationship got even more complicated, as Tinder sued Bumble for copying its unique features, including swiping functionality, and an undo button. Some have noted that this suit has also been conducted in order for Tinder’s parent company, Match Group, to corner online dating market—a theory compounded by Match Group’s recent acquisition of the Facebook-run dating app Hinge. While the two apps do share significant traits, it is notable that other Match-owned dating apps such as OKCupid have also begun using the swiping and undo features.

No matter the motivation behind these patent suits, you shouldn’t let your ideas potentially suffer the same fate. Contact us today to learn more about our patent registration services.

How to file an international patent

Sometimes you come up with an idea so good that you feel compelled to share it with the world. But businesses based on unique, innovative ideas need patents to stave off imitators and keep their inventions to themselves.

Applying for a patent can be complicated enough in your home country, but if you want to expand your business abroad, you will have to look into patenting your invention in new legal territories.

There is no such thing as an international patent. Instead, you must patent your invention in all of your target markets individually. Luckily, there is a system in place to streamline the process of simultaneously filing patents in multiple national territories, and it’s called the PCT.

What is the PCT?

The PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) is an international agreement to which 138 nations have signed up. Contracting states include all the major market territories such as the UK, China, the USA, France, Japan, and many more. The World Intellectual Property Organisation has a full list of contracting countries here.

The PCT cannot offer you a one-size-fits-all global patent because patent law can be very different from country to country. Essentially, it is a quicker, cheaper, and more organised way to apply for multiple national patents at the same time.

However apply for patents through the PCT is not as simple as making a phone call or filling out a form. It is still a complicated and time consuming process, often lasting up to 31 months, so it is best overseen by a professional. This is why we at Global Voices offer services to help with registering a patent around the world.

Once you have enlisted the help of professional patent lawyers and translators, the registration process will go something like this.

1. Send an application to a Receiving Office

Each country has its own PCT Receiving Office. In the UK, it is the International Patent Classification (IPC). Your IPC application must be very carefully worded to make sure there is no chance of misinterpretation, so you must ensure that you describe exactly what you have invented in no uncertain terms. IP Watchdog has some tips for accurate and descriptive patent wording to help you achieve this successfully, but your professional patent team will be able to help you too.

2. Confirm which countries you want a patent in

During the 31 month process you will have to finalise which countries you want your patent to be active in and inform your patent lawyers and the Receiving Office. You can choose any number of territories.

3. Wait for the applications to be received

Before your application can be sent to individual countries, it will still be in the “international stage” of the process. During this time, you must wait for the Receiving Office to receive and read the patent, and then to send it out to the specific nation through the PCT.

4. Wait for the specific national patents

Once the applications arrive at each individual country you want your invention to be patented in, they will have passed the “international stage” and reached the “national stage”. The “national stage” can be another drawn-out process, as each country runs the application through its own unique patent requirements.

In some cases it will take a long time for a patent to finally be accepted in every target nation, but your patent legal team will be with you every step of the way should anything go wrong, or should you be needed to supply any additional information to any of the countries you have submitted applications to.

Once your patent is active in a territory, you can get to work on the hugely rewarding process of expanding your business overseas.

Why do a patent search?

Patent searches are integral to the business plans of individual inventors, and of companies whose success hinges on the fact that their products are completely unique.

What is a patent and why should you conduct a patent search?

Simply put, a patent is a legal document that gives you the sole right to profit from whatever original invention you hold a patent for. If you were to invent, say, a brand new machine for running patent searches, you should file a patent on that to make sure no one rips off your idea.

A patent search is the act of reading through large patent databases to look for certain things.

Although in execution all patent searches look quite similar, there are in fact several different reasons to carry them out depending on what you are trying to achieve. The team here at Global Voices can help you with patent searches of every kind, so read on to determine why you would be doing a patent search, and get in touch to proceed further.

Why you should do a patent search for your own invention

The most common type of patent search is one to gauge the patentability of a new invention. If you have created what you think is an ingenious product and you want to make sure no one can copy it once it goes to market, you need to get a patent. And to get a patent, your invention needs to be legally patentable.

To do this, you have to check for two things during a patent search:

Infringement

If someone else has already patented an invention with an uncanny resemblance to yours, you may have problems during the patenting process, or legal problems further down the line should your similar patent still be accepted.

A search of patent databases for anything similar to your own invention should soon determine whether anybody has already come up with your big idea before you proceed to get a patent of your own.

Patentability

Similar to looking for infringement on any existing ideas, searching for patentability involves determining whether a new invention is “non-obvious” enough to qualify for patentability.

Though patent law varies country by country, most patent offices require a new invention to be original. In the US, this is defined as “non-obvious”. In Europe, this is called an “inventive step”. Looking at other patents in a similar area to yours will clue you in on what is considered “inventive” and what is simply normal within your inventions subject area.

Patent searches are not free, and you can file a patent without doing one, but if you do not find out whether or not your invention is truly patentable before you do so, you may end up wasting money on a costly patent application that was destined to be rejected.

Patent searches can also be useful even if you do not have a specific new invention in mind, but when you are carving out your business niche.

Conduct patent searches to gauge the competition or search for “white space”

Patent searches can give you a clear and accurate insight into the intellectual property landscape around the area of your business. By finding and examining other patents in and around your niche, you can gain vital knowledge in two areas:

White space

Sometimes known as simply “available space”, white space is the gap in the market in which there is space for you to take out a patent. If you notice that no one has found a solution for a certain problem in your area of business, or if there are not many patented inventions in your area of business at all, you will now know that you can come up with an invention and take out a patent yourself to fill in the gap.

State-of-the-art trends

Rather than looking for gaps in the market, you can use a patent search to keep up to date with the inventions of your competitors. This gives you two advantages.

Firstly, you will gain intimate knowledge of your competition, meaning you can adjust your own business plans based on the direction similar companies are taking. Whether you choose to follow their lead or to take the industry in a different direction altogether, this patent search will help you make decisions.

Secondly, running frequent patent searches will help you make sure you are not running into a patent “roadblock” as a competitor overtakes you and patents a new invention first.

Whether you are using patent searches solely for your own potential patents, or as a way to keep tabs on other businesses in your sector, there is no doubt that they can be hugely beneficial to your business.

And if you want your invention to see success on the global market, working with the language experts at Global Voices is the best way to truly protect your intellectual property on an international scale.

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