Intellectual property rights (IP)

A good idea? Keep it to yourself or sign an NDA!

Imagine you are a start-up with a fantastic idea for a unique product or a special service. Then, of course, you don’t want anyone else to ‘steal’ that idea. To prevent this from happening, you can invoke intellectual property rights. Note however: intellectual property rights do not apply to ideas or concepts that have not yet been implemented. If your idea has not yet taken shape, you should only discuss it with people you really trust or with trading partners who have signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

Intellectual property law

An idea develops quickly into a concrete product or service and an original name is put on it. From then on, you may be able to claim intellectual property rights. However, this is all too often overlooked by entrepreneurs, who – proud as they are of their logo, name, product or service – throw their ideas into the hands of social media and the internet. If you have no proper protection through intellectual property rights, there is a risk that your competitors – whose existence you may did not even know – will copy your logo, name, product or service. If, on the other hand, you have an intellectual property right, you dispose of a temporary exclusive right of exploitation applicable to a certain territory, so that others are not allowed to copy or reproduce it.

Range of intellectual property rights

There are several different intellectual property rights, which will be of greater or lesser interest to you depending on what you wish to protect. The following intellectual property rights are the most common:

Copyright: copyrights protect original works that are the result of creative activities. You may be familiar with the sign of copyright: ©. The range of works that can be protected by copyright is very wide and includes paintings, photographs, drawings, texts, films, music, video games, web pages, furniture design, logos, choreographies, computer programs, etc. No registration is required for copyright, so you are automatically entitled to it if the conditions are met. However, this has the disadvantage that it is an uncertain right.

Trademarks: a trademark protects the sign or word that distinguishes your product or service from the rest. This sign can be both the name of your company and the logo. Well-known brands are Coca-Cola, (the logo of) Apple, IKEA, (the logo of) Nike, etc.

Designs: a model protects the appearance of your product. This appearance is determined by its colour, shape, decoration and/or the use of materials. Think for example of the model of a certain type of car or a pattern for wallpaper. If you develop a product with a certain design, the design right may be of interest to you.

Patents: a patent protects an invention, a product or a process that is industrially applicable. Consequently, you are the only one who can apply the new working method or manufacture the new product. A patent is only useful in a limited number of cases. After all, you have to take into account that (i) the procedure to obtain a patent is very expensive and time-consuming (as a result of which the invention is often obsolete when the patent is granted after a few years) and (ii) in the context of the patent application, you have to describe your invention in detail in public, as a result of which your competitors (often in countries where intellectual property rights have less value) are presented with ideas to illegally imitate the invention or to legally improve it.

Domain names: a domain name itself is not protected by intellectual property rights, but the domain name may contain a name that is protected by intellectual property rights. The registration of a domain name can therefore constitute an infringement of another person’s copyright, trademark or trade name. You may also have to deal with persons who register domain names just to be able to sell them later (so-called domain squatting).

Euregional or international business = international protection of your intellectual property

If you are not only active in Belgium, but also in other countries, you will have to check whether your intellectual property rights are also protected internationally and, if not, whether it would be useful to do so. This way, you can have your trademark or design protected for the Benelux (only Belgium is not possible), but also for the entire European Union (via the EUIPO) or also for other non-EU countries (this requires an individual application per country at WIPO). The costs will of course increase depending on the number of countries in which you want to be protected and you will also have to check whether your trademark or design can be protected in those other countries at all. It is possible that a competitor has already protected your trademark in Italy or Poland. This must always be investigated in advance.

You have developed a fantastic idea, what do you need us for?

We can advise you on the following questions:

1. Can my invention be protected?
2. If so, which intellectual property right is best suited to my invention?
3. Is the trademark or design you have in mind still available in the Benelux and/or the European Union?

If these questions are affirmative, we can also take care of the administrative processing of the application for intellectual property rights. To this end, we are officially affiliated with BOIP (the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property), EUIPO (the Office for Intellectual Property of the European Union) and WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organisation).

And what if my intellectual property right is infringed after all?

Unfortunately, it regularly happens that an invention is optimally protected by intellectual property rights, but that a competitor still infringes those rights, e.g. by using a (quasi-) identical name or simply imitating your product. In that case, you can rely on our extensive experience in IP dispute resolution. Our strategy depends on the specific circumstances and your wishes. For example, it is possible to initiate a unilateral procedure for the seizure of counterfeit. This procedure mainly serves to gather evidence of the (imminent) infringement. Once this evidence is available, you can consider a ‘prohibitory injunction’ (so that a prohibition to continue the infringement is imposed) as well as a ‘compensation procedure’ (where you claim damages for the profits that you have lost as a result of the infringement). Did you also know that only certain courts have jurisdiction over intellectual property disputes? These courts are genuinely specialised in IP matters, which certainly benefits the handling of such often complex disputes.

Our specialists in intellectual property rights

Intellectual Property Rights (IP) | Euregio Law & Tax