Ten Helpful Steps to Protect Your Design Copyright

What is the most effective way to protect copyright?

Thinking about copyright issues before you introduce your concept or ideas to any prospective client, may help you avoid being ‘ripped off” at a later date. Below are 10 helpful steps that address the key issues that you might like to think about before it is too late. At Brand Protect, we want to ensure that you get paid for the effort that you have already put into the product that you are pitching to, or negotiating with, the client.

Step 1 – Non-Disclosure Agreement

A common concern when discussing projects and ideas is that the person you are talking to may take the concept and use the idea themselves. If this happens, you are unlikely to benefit from your idea. The best way of sharing ideas is to get the other side to sign a non-disclosure agreement or confidentiality letter before you talk to them about your ideas. If the other side refuse to sign such an agreement, then there is a likelihood that they do not intend to treat your ideas confidentially. There is no point in working with such people. However, most large companies are happy to sign such documents; yours will not be the first they have seen!

Remember that the non-disclosure agreement should be presented and signed by the people to whom you intend to impart your confidential information, before you start discussions. The agreement should include obligations not to use or pass on information that has a necessary quality of confidence, i.e. that which is not already part of the public domain or rightly and legitimately known by the other party.

Step 2 – Meeting Checklist

Before you get to the meeting, ensure you have a checklist of the points that you need to cover. This checklist might include the main commercial points, for example, the issues of payment (how, when, after how much time), timescale, territory, and ownership of any rights that exist today and might be produced in the future. These are issues, particularly future IP rights, are often overlooked in the negotiation of a deal. As a result, it is likely that lawyers need to negotiate them, when revising agreements, and this adds to your legal costs. It is much cheaper for you to agree these points early in the discussion so that everyone knows what is expected of them.

A checklist helps you to ensure that you have at least thought about the issues, even if you later decide not to raise a particular issue at the meeting. This is a professional approach and gives a positive impression to the other side.

Step 3 – Heads of Agreement

Once you have agreed the terms of the agreement in principal, write them down and draw up heads of terms. At Brand Protect, we always advise that if you get the other side to sign the Head of Agreement, you mark the document Subject to Contract.

Step 4 – Further Meetings

When you are at the initial meeting, remember to agree a time and place for the next meeting. It is always a good idea to send the other side an agenda of the issues that you want to cover before the subsequent meetings.

Step 5 – Due Diligence

Another way of describing “due diligence” is to use the word “homework”. Before your meeting do your homework on the company, its people and the products it sells. Try to find out as much as you can about it/them. For example, you can use the Internet, and trade magazines, as well as ask friends what they know about the company to whom you are pitching.

Step 6 – Information

As part of the preparations for any meeting, ensure that you know what your message is. Make sure you know what you want to say and, as importantly, what you do not want to disclose. Be certain that if you are using examples of work that you have done in the past that was commissioned by other clients (third party) that you have an agreement with the third party that you can use their software for demonstration purposes. This may be also true if the software has been written for a specific platform. Many “Licensed Developer Agreements” include a prohibition against exploiting software designed for their machines without it having been agreed in a separate legal agreement. Its important, in order to protect yourself from any legal action, that you check the agreement.

Step 7 – Agreements

Never promise something that you cannot deliver. For example, we know of games developers who are so eager to get a publishing deal that they agree with publishers without considering their track record, whether they are really capable of providing what is promised and the terms on which they are dealing.

It is vital that you read and understand all the contracts and agreements, letters of intent and non-disclosure agreements prior to signing them. If there is something that you do not understand, ask for clarification of the point in writing or ask your lawyer to explain it to you. If the other side cannot explain, to your satisfaction, the meaning of a clause then ask for it to be removed.

Step 8 – Data Protection

If you are involved in collecting names, email addresses, phones numbers of people or business cards containing personal data, it is advisable that you make sure that you are entitled to do so. The Data Protection Act 1998 places requirements on you to tell third parties that you are collecting their data, why you are collecting the data and what you intend to do with the data. We suggest that you have a look at this website www.dataprotection.gov.uk . Failure to do comply with this law can lead to prosecution and a fine.

Step 9 – Rights Clearances and Protection

If you use music or any graphics that you have not designed or written you may need to obtain a licence to use this as part of your software. Check out some of the rights clearance agencies for such permissions.

Step 10 – Trade Mark Search and Registration

Also, you should ensure that the name you have chosen for your new product or company does not infringe the rights of any third party. It is vital to check that someone else has not already registered this name as a trade mark.

To check this, see TMA or for more detail of the legal regulations and to undertake your own trade mark search, have a look at www.patent.gov.uk. Beware, both of these databases are suitable for UK searches only. If you need to undertake a trade mark search outside of the UK, e.g. in the EU or the rest of the world, Brand Protect can do this for you, and advise on further steps. If you find that a third party has already registered your brand as a trade mark in a similar area of business, you may need to reconsider your trading name. In the event that your chosen trading or brand name is not already registered, you should consider applying for a registration. In any event you should use the (TM) symbol on sales and promotional materials. This indicates that you are claiming trade mark rights in the sign, name or logo, and puts third parties on notice that you are using it as a badge of origin.

Brand Protect

These are quite a few things to consider. Brand Protect are specialists in all aspects of intellectual property (IP) and can help you to ensure that you get paid for your ideas and for what you deliver. Contact us, on 01869 369701 to arrange a free no obligation initial consultation.