Page 1: Introduction
The Intellectual Property Office is part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It is the official government body responsible for granting intellectual property rights in the UK.
The Intellectual Property Office supports innovation by granting intellectual property rights. This is property that originates in the mind as an idea, such as a design of a car, a piece of computer software or the words and music of a pop song. Businesses take steps to protect their physical property, such as equipment, raw materials and buildings, but it is just as important that they protect their intellectual property.
Consider the development of a product such as a mobile phone. The manufacturer needs physical resources such as offices, factories and machines - but what really makes the difference between different phones? The value in many products is not the physical materials for example, the metals and plastics that are used. Mobile phones are shaped by ideas: improved technology leading to, for example, faster communications, music and digital photography, 'cool' designs and world-class brands. Think of the value in an iPod or a downloadable song. Intellectual property is often more valuable than warehouses and office blocks. This may be described as a knowledge economy.
There are several ways in which the Intellectual Property Office can help a business to protect its intellectual property (IP).
A company like Apple uses these safeguards to patent its inventions and register its designs. These protections can be applied across the world. For example:
- it has registered its brand names as trade marks, such as iPod, Macintosh and iMac. This prevents competitors directly copying these brand names
- its distinctive logo (the apple with a bite taken out of the side) is registered as a trade mark
- products sold through iTunes are also protected under copyright. The writers of each song usually own these rights.
To see how important IP protection is in practice, this case study looks at how one technology company, Forensic Pathways, has used these legal safeguards for a new development.
In the UK there are now over 70 million mobile phones in use. The vast majority are used legitimately, but mobile phones are also used by criminals and terrorists. Computer technology can now analyse calls and messages from many different mobiles at once. A computer program that could plot, map and analyse that data so that criminal networks could be identified would be valuable. How would the developer protect the product before reaching the market?
Forensic Pathways is a highly innovative company based in Staffordshire that provides products and services for the police and security services. It specialises in investigative tools for crime, security and fraud. The company exploited rapidly-advancing computer technology to develop a new product, the Forensic Phone Analyser. This allows police and security services to search for phone numbers, SMS text messages, contacts and images, across all the data available, not just case by case. Marketing planning showed that the product could secure substantial sales so the company invested time and money developing the product.
If a competitor developed an equivalent product based directly on Forensic Pathways' software, all Forensic Pathway's work would be undermined. The company would incur the development costs but not have the opportunity to recover those costs by being first to market. To prevent this happening, it took steps to protect its intellectual property rights from the beginning of the development process.