Intellectual property rights and your business

Intellectual property (IP) is an often forgotten business asset. When we think of ”assets”, we all think about plant and equipment, real estate and other fixtures and fittings. However as business owners  we rarely think about intellectual property. We are quick to ensure that we protect our tangible assets, but what actions do we take to protect our intellectual property?


As  growth in the knowledge economy continues, protecting and enforcing your business’s IP rights will  be critical for long-term business success. Having a proactive IP protection strategy will often place your business in the best position to protect its IP. As such, being aware of the different ways in which IP can be protected will assist in formulating your IP strategy. This article covers a range of ways in which you can protect your businesses IP including copyright, trade mark, trade secrets, restraint of trades and website terms of use.




Copyright is an automatic right in Australia. This means that provided  the work falls under the operation of copyright legislation, it is automatically protected under Australian copyright law. There is no need to register. Copyright protects ”original expressions of ideas” however does not protect the idea itself. As a result, it does not protect against independent creation of similar work.


Copyright is often used to protect literary works, musical work, dramatic work, or artistic works of a material form. As such, common business assets that are protected by copyright include booklets, letters and other printed material whether digital or physical provided that they meet some additional requirements.


The duration of copyright for most types of works is life of the author plus 70 years. During which time the owner of the copyright is free to sell or licence their rights to other parties. This is a common business practice for artists, musicians, free lance writers and many other businesses that deal in copyrighted material. Importantly, the sale or licencing of copyright does not mean the owner of the copyright gives up their moral rights automatically.


Trade mark


Trade marks allow for the exclusive right to use, license and sell a sign that distinguishes a business from competitors. A ”sign” includes elements such as letters, words, shapes, colours, labels and aspects of packaging or a combination of any of these elements. Unlike copyright, trade marks are required to be registered to gain protection. There are associated costs including legal fees for drafting an application, filing fees and sometimes lengthy wait times for registration with a minimum of 7 months.


So why go through all this trouble? Your trade mark can be your most valuable marketing tool, your identity and a way to show customers who you are. Registering a trade mark makes it easier to take legal action to prevent others from using your mark.


Once registered, trade marks are valid for 10 years from the filing date and  can be renewed at an additional cost. While registered, the mark may carry an ® symbol that puts other parties on notice that your mark is registered.


Trade secret


Often businesses have knowledge that they want to protect. However, they do not wish to disclose  information to the public which is otherwise required to obtain protection through a patent or other registerable protections. Information often desired to be protected includes formulas, business systems or products.


In order to protect trade secrets businesses will often require certain employees to sign a non-disclosure agreement to prevent the use or disclosure of such information. In addition, confidentiality clauses and restraint of trade clauses may also be written into employment contracts (discussed further below). Furthermore, businesses may turn to common law breach of confidence in the event that confidential information that was obtained in circumstances that imparted an obligation of confidence, is disclosed or used without consent.


Importantly, you cannot prevent a competitor from independently creating the same product and/or process and using it or selling it commercially if your business relies on trade secret to protect your IP.


Employee restraint of trade


Employees are often in control of information that a business derives success from. As such, there is an ability to restrain employees from divulging trade secrets or putting them to their own use. However, any such restraint must be drafted carefully not to over extend as the individual retains the right to have the ability to earn a living. The court seeks to balance both the business’s interest and the individual’s interest.  The scope of positions, scope of competitor, the area in which the restraint applies as well as the length of time for which it applies are all relevant in determining whether a restraint is lawful.


Website terms of use


Website terms of use are a drafted statement on the rules for all visitors to a business’s website. The terms of use surrounding copyright material used on the website is often included. This helps protect you intellectual property that you do own as well as acknowledge any copyright material that you do not own but are using.


Protecting your business’s intellectual property protects your business’s future. This article has described some of the most common ways in which your business can seek to protect its IP. A comprehensive intellectual property strategy that assesses the applicability, advantages and disadvantages  of each method of IP protection is the best way to ensure that all factors have been considered and your business is in the best position moving forward.


If you would like to learn more about how you can protect your business’s intellectual property, please feel free to contact a member of our commercial law team on 5434 6666 or 5472 1588.