Protecting your Intellectual Property

Words by Lucille Gosford 

In any industry, it is important that you protect your business intelligence, processes and creative property. As your business grows and your assets expand, you should consider and seek advice where necessary on which areas of your business you need to protect.

WHAT IS IP?
Intellectual property (IP) relates to your creative property or ‘property of the mind’. This covers a broad range of areas, including your inventions, your business understanding and process as well as your assets such as designs, logos, artwork and symbols.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) are legally binding property rights, (such as those over land ownership), which you hold in creative or intangible property. Like other areas of your business, you can obtain legal protection for your IPR. Generally, this will provide you with a period of time to be recognised as the owner of the property, allowing you to profit from your invention or creation.

WHY PROTECT YOUR IP?
For many businesses, IP is one of the most integral business assets and can be what sets you apart from your competitors. Protecting your ideas and IP is a powerful tool in not only managing your business’ brand but also in preventing people from unlawfully using your business IP and ideas. Should your IP be used without your authority, it may cause irreparable harm to your business.

For example, in the creative arts and musical industries, the unauthorised use or copying of designs, musical recordings and performances poses a threat to the livelihoods of the artists and in some countries, entire cultural sectors. By protecting and registering your intellectual property, you can ensure that you receive any benefit or value and others are not benefiting from your intelligence.

The Director of the Social Development Programme at the Pacific Community (SPC), Leituala Kuiniselani Toelupe Tago-Elisara, recently highlighted the importance of IPR to creative and cultural producers saying that:

The creative and cultural industries are an important economic sector in the Pacific and around the world. Supporting intellectual property protection will help the sector grow and enable individual cultural producers to build livelihoods based on creative expression.

Beyond protecting yourself from piracy and infringements, protecting your IP also provides specific rights, which you can use to manage and grow your business. This includes the right to sell, licence (both exclusively and non-exclusively) and pass-on your IP to other parties for a profit.

WHAT CAN I PROTECT?
Depending on what you wish to protect, you will need to determine the appropriate type of protection you require. Some common types of protection are outlined below:

  • TRADEMARKS: A trademark is a way of identifying something that is unique or special to your business such a logo, business name, letter, number or word. A good trademark will distinguish your business from other businesses in the market. By registering your trademark with the local IP authority, your business will receive the exclusive right to commercially use the IP in connection with the goods or services for which it is registered.
  • COPYRIGHT: Copyright refers to the IPR in artistic, literary and creative works such as paintings, songs, books, maps and dances. Copyright protects an individual’s work itself and does not protect any style or process that was used in the creation of the works. In Fiji, copyright, (unlike other types of IP), is automatically conferred on the owner upon creation of the work and therefore it does not need to be registered. However, other countries have different IP legislation with some requiring copyright to be registered, so it is important that you check the laws in your own country. Copyright may also be sold, waived or licensed to third parties by the owner.
  • TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE: In some cases, community and cultural knowledge as passed from generation to generation, may be able to be protected. This could include protection of oral stories, designs unique to an area or tribal dances. Local communities in the Pacific Islands, particularly those exposed to a high level of tourism and cultural integration, should consider this as a way of protecting their cultural integrity from exploitation. Not all countries have legislation in place to protect Traditional Knowledge, so it is important to check the laws that apply in your country.

HOW DO I PROTECT MY IP?
While it may seem a complex and overwhelming process to protect your IP, it is often worth the time, money and effort spent to protect your business.

Once you have determined what types of property you have, you will need to identify the appropriate method of registration or protection. Most countries have a domestic authority, (such as the Fiji Intellectual Property Office), which will assist and facilitate the registration process. It is important to note that unless your country is a signatory to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement), protection granted by a local authority will usually only apply to that territory. If your country is not part of the TRIPS Agreement you will be required to register your IP in each separate location in order to protect your IP across multiple territories.

Should you require further advice or assistance with protecting your IP, it is recommended that you seek the services of a professional firm or contact the organisations listed below for further information.

RESOURCES 

National IP Offices: 

Fiji Intellectual Property Office:
Office of the Attorney General
Ministry of Justice
Box 2213
Government Buildings
Suva
Phone: (679) 330 9866
Website: www.ag.gov.fj 

Papua New Guinea
Intellectual Property Office of Papua New Guinea (IPOPNG)
P.O Box 5053
Boroko
National Capital District
Phone: (675) 321 73 11
Website: www.ipopng.gov.pg/

Samoa
Registrar of Intellectual Properties
Registries of Companies and Intellectual Property Division (RCIP)
Division of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (MCIL)
P.O. Box 862
Apia
Phone: (685) 20 441/2
Website: www.mcil.gov.ws

Solomon Islands
Ministry of Police and Justice
Registrar-General’s Office
P.O. Box G 15
Honiara, Guadalcanal
Phone: (677) 23 002

Tonga
The Registry and Intellectual Property Office
Ministry of Commerce, Tourism and Labour
Latai Estate
Cnr Tupoulahi Rd and Salote Rd
Fasi-moe-Afi Nuku’alofa
Phone: +676 23688
Website: www.mctl.gov.to

Tuvalu
Attorney General’s Office
Office of the Prime Minister
Vaiaku Side
Funafuti
Tuvalu
Phone: (688) 20 123

Vanuatu
The Intellectual Property Office of the Republic of Vanuatu, Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Industry
Private Mail Bag 9056
Port Vila
Republic of Vanuatu
Phone: 00 678 7745984
Email: mleona@vanuatu.gov.vu
Website: https://governmentofvanuatu.gov.vu/tradecommercetourism.html

Across the Pacific Islands: 

Pacific Community (SPC) European Union – ACP “Enhancing the Pacific Cultural Industries: Fiji, Samoa and Solomon Islands” – project notes including a range pf entrepreneur tools.

Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute (a facility of the University of the South Pacific Faculty of Law): http://www.paclii.org

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) provides more IP resources and information regarding individual country registration:
http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/urls.jsp

 

Important: Please note that this article does not constitute legal advice. Please seek the advise of an Intellectual Property lawyer or contact one of the organisations listed above for legal advice relevant to your particular business, industry and country.