To IP Or Not To IP? – Copyright, Trademarks And More

In the second of his posts on intellectual property issues, SmallBizPod’s guest blogger, Steve Van Dulken from the British Library’s Business & Intellectual Property Centre, continues his look at different methods …

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7th June 2007 at 3:50 pm

In the second of his posts on intellectual property issues, SmallBizPod’s guest blogger, Steve Van Dulken from the British Library’s Business & Intellectual Property Centre, continues his look at different methods of protecting an innovative product.

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Following on from the discussion of patents in relation to the Reebok© Pump shoe last month, a second form of protection is through registered designs. This is for a look deliberately given to something, but does not cover (in theory) anything useful or how it must look to function. In five pages, American Design Patent 307508 shows the different parts of the ‘shoe upper’, with the ball a minor feature seen in the drawing showing the view from above. It only protects a shoe of this particular look.

reebok patent application
Copyright, the third form, could have been used instead. It is literally that – a right against copying. Any manufacturer who claimed that they weren’t aware of the similar looks in another shoe could avoid any penalty. Would the judge believe them ? Or would the plaintiffs be able to find evidence they knew about it all along ? Copyright now lasts for lifetime plus 70 years in most cases but is a weak kind of protection. Instructions for using equipment can also be covered by copyright, but it covers only the wording, not the actual ideas.

The fourth form is trade marks. This is often the cheapest (the normal fee is £200) and most effective kind of protection. It is far easier to come up with a new trade mark than to invent and then write out a detailed description of a trade mark. In Britain, the name Reebok is a registered trade mark and hence is entitled to have ™ after it. The slogan ‘Pump up, air out’ was also used.

There has almost certainly been other work by Reebok: further patents making the idea better or cheaper, new looks, and so on. For several years the concept made lots of money for Reebok in other versions such as running shoes. Air cushions seem to be the flavour of the month now. No sensible company relies on a popular model without thinking: what will happen if people decide they are tired of the idea, or if others attack with better or cheaper models ? Constant innovation is needed. Far too many entrepreneurs forget that the competition will not just sit back watching them make lots of money.

Steve van Dulken

Steve is a member of the Research Service, which supports the Business & Intellectual Property Centre (BIPC) at the British Library. The BIPC provides up-to-date company and market information, plus information on patents, trademarks and registered designs for businesses of all sizes. http://www.bl.uk/bipc

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