Find out how to protect your inventions and ideas
Receive advice from New Zealand’s intellectual property experts
Baldwins is a specialist intellectual property firm with offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. As a bright young inventor, you’ll probably need to know about intellectual property in the future. To help you get started, here are some answers to a few questions we’re often asked.
Ask questions in our forums here, and the friendly team from Baldwins will do their best to answer your questions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Patent attorneys help individuals and organisations to protect their ideas and inventions, so they don’t get ripped off by others. But there’s a bit more to it than that. Read on to find out more.
Intellectual property is about creations of the mind. This includes new methods, products, expressions of ideas, trade secrets, brands and logos. When you create some types of intellectual property you automatically get the rights to it (ownership). With other types you have to register your intellectual property rights in order for them to be recognised as yours.
You can keep your IP rights or at any time let them be assigned, transferred, waived or licensed to others.
There are several types of IP and you can divide them into two groups, those with registered rights and those with unregistered rights.
Registered intellectual property rights are formally created at a patent office or similar. They include things like patents, registered trade marks, registered designs and plant variety rights. Unregistered rights happen automatically when you create something. They include copyright, confidential information, trade secrets, know-how and unregistered trade marks.
Any of the registered rights have costs to put them into place, some more than others. So you need to think carefully about whether the cost for that right is worthwhile. Is putting that right into place going to have a commercial payback? At Baldwins we advise clients all the time around commercialisation, and their wider intellectual property strategy.
When you invent something new, you might be able to get patent protection for it. A patent is a monopoly for an invention – meaning you as the patent owner have the exclusive right to use the invention in New Zealand for up to 20 years. A patent protects the way the invention works or functions.
The patent must include a description of the best method known for making and/or using the invention at the time. The description must be enough to allow a person skilled in that area of technology to reproduce the invention. At the end of the life of the patent, the public can use and develop the patented technology.
I’ve invented something cool… Can I patent it?
There are three requirements for an invention to be patentable – it must be novel, useful and have an inventive step.
- Novel – the invention must be new, you can’t patent something that already exists. In most countries, to get a patent the invention must be new, so it’s important you keep the details of your invention confidential until you have figured out whether you want to patent it or not, and if it is patentable!
- Useful – you must be able to demonstrate that the invention is useful to at least someone, even if it is just a new way of having fun.
- Inventive – the invention must not be an obvious variation of what already exists. This can be a hard one, and sometimes subtle differences may be inventive ones.
A registered design protects the way a product looks. Like a patent, a registered design is a monopoly but it’s for a design (for example a tread pattern) when applied to an object (for example a tyre).
One well-known example is Apple’s design patent for the iPad. Confusingly, in the United States registered designs are called design patents. This often leads to people mistakenly saying Apple has a patent for a rectangle with curved corners. Technically they do, but they can only enforce it against someone who makes a tablet device that looks almost identical – it is not a monopoly to the shape, only that shape when applied to a computer or tablet.
A registered design can last up to 15 years in New Zealand, or 10 years in Australia. The exact monopoly the design covers is contained in the drawings in the registered design. At the end of the life of the registered design other people are free to use it.
Trade marks are signs that distinguish the goods and services of one business from those of others. Trade marks serve as badges of origin or quality, as well as acting as valuable tools for advertising, promoting and developing business identity. Trade marks can be made up of words, images, logos, slogans, sounds, shapes, smells, or combinations of these, so long as they make your goods and services stand out.
A trade mark consists of the mark itself and the description of the goods and services that the mark covers.
One example of a registered trade mark is the advertising jingle for the Warehouse® - the notes for this music are recorded at the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) and the trade mark covers retail services.
Copyright protects many forms of original expression, including written matter, artistic works, photographs, music, films and broadcasts. In New Zealand and Australia, copyright applies automatically without any need for registration or any other formality. Unlike many countries, copyright in New Zealand can also protect industrial designs. If someone uses an artistic work you have created without your permission, you are able to take action.
The © indicates that a work is protected by copyright. Although not required in New Zealand, adding a © is a reminder to the public that the work is protected by copyright. Any works that you create you should mark as [Yourfirstname] [Yourlastname] © 2016 (or the year you created them).
The ™ symbol means you consider the word or logo next to that symbol as your trade mark that is unregistered. An unregistered trade mark is one that may be on the way to being registered, or one that you have not chosen to register, but still claim as a trade mark.
The ® symbol means the word or logo next to the symbol is a registered trade mark.
A trade secret is information, such as a technique or method that is not generally known within the industry and has commercial value to a business. A trade secret therefore provides the business with an advantage over its competitors.
An example is the recipe for Coca Cola or KFC. Both companies have obtained longer protection for their recipe by keeping it secret. If they had filed a patent they would only have 20 years protection and then generic coke or KFC would come on the market.
A trade secret is useful when it’s difficult or impossible to reverse engineer (disassemble) the product to understand how it is made or works. When the function of the product, or how it is made it easy to reverse engineer then a patent may be the best.
If someone has copied or is infringing our IP then you may be able to take action against them. Often a letter advising them of your rights and that you are aware of their activities and asking them to stop will be sufficient. In other situations you may need to negotiate and sometimes you may have to take them to Court.
Of course hopefully this never happens, but in case it does you have the options to choose from.
If you’re curious to find out more about IP, you can visit our website to continue reading and browse through our information sheets and case studies.
Or if you have a specific question in mind, you can talk to an expert by posting it on the ASB Bright Sparks online forum.
This information provided on this page is intended to summarise potentially complicated legal issues, and is not intended to be a substitute for individual legal advice. If you would like further information about your intellectual property, please contact a Baldwins representative.