Protecting intellectual property rights

Jo McKenzie of Barker Gotelee highlights some potential pitfalls for those setting up in business

Jo McKenzie of Barker Gotelee highlights some potential pitfalls for those setting up in business

ONE of the most frustrating things for a new company is when someone steals your thunder and you've only been in business a short time.

Having thought long and hard of a zippy name that would stick in customer's minds, and be indicative of the high quality and exceptional service that they would receive, someone then uses a similar name for a similar business and your customers end up confused and annoyed.

So what can you do to ensure this doesn't happen?

Before setting up your business check Companies House for other similar sounding or identical names and then avoid them. Use the Intellectual Property Office Trade Mark Enquiry service which can tell you of Trade Marks already registered. Do a business search to see if there are other businesses using the name you have thought of.

If your search reveals a few businesses similar to yours then consider whether your business could become confused with them. If so, change your name. This will hopefully avoid any legal action being brought against you in future and will avoid confusion on behalf of your customers.

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Even if the business is in a different arena to your own, it is still advisable to change the name as any element of confusion could lead to litigation.

Once you have confirmed that your name is wholly unique, it is advisable to register the company logo or name as a Trade Mark. A name that is invented is usually easier to register. This will grant it greater protection against it being copied. If you choose not to register it you can still rely on the common law doctrine of Passing Off, but it is much harder to protect your rights than if they were registered.

Another thing to guard against when setting up your business is copying any text or photos from another website or source; if you have decided to put photos on your website of products obtained from a supplier, it would be advisable to request permission to use the pictures.

This avoids any potential claim for copyright infringement from the supplier. They will, no doubt, have spent money on producing the photos and may therefore own the copyright in them. They will undoubtedly object to you taking advantage of the money and time they have spent by using the pictures for free. Therefore using a photo and accompanying text from a supplier's catalogue is inadvisable.

Should you require advice on how to avoid the pitfalls of litigation or on how to respond to litigation proceedings in relation to your Intellectual Property Rights please contact Jo McKenzie at Barker Gotelee on 01473 611211.