Avoiding the intellectual property trap

Intellectual property (IP) often hits the news, be it the estate of a deceased rocker suing Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement on Stairway to Heaven, or a long lost descendant of Arthur Conan Doyle in the USA threatening to sue the BBC for infringing a European-wide trademark of the Sherlock Holmes ‘brand’, or perhaps the Premier League thinning out the number of pubs in South Wales as they seek to put an end to the routine broadcast of Saturday’s 3 o’clock kick-offs.

All of these stories have featured in the press this year, but are they just a bit of gossip?  Is intellectual property just an abstract concept for entertainers and corporate giants seemingly living in a different world to the rest of us? Looking at the list of newsworthy names above, you may be forgiven for thinking so, but the reality is far from it – and it can have serious repercussions for a dental practice.

Goodwill, the lifeblood of any business, is defined as the attractive force that brings in custom. But the question is: Where is it manifested? As a dental practice your goodwill is founded on your reputation, either via word of mouth or through marketing, branding and advertising. This is what encourages your existing patients to return to you and new patients to try out your service.

Any small business, such as a dental practice, can spend a considerable amount of money on creating a strong, positive image, enhancing its goodwill. This can be through designing a new logo, having a sign put up outside the premises, investing in a new website, or having office stationary printed, and it is all underpinned by intellectual property. However, issues can arise if the proper precautions are not taken first. 

Much of the legal work undertaken in the field of intellectual property relates to those who either did not know they had any intellectual property, or did not consider whether their marketing activity would step on the toes of those who do. The questions any business should therefore be asking themselves are:

  1. Will you be infringing someone else’s intellectual property rights when you launch your brand, website or business identity?
  2. How do you stop others from infringing your intellectual property rights?
  3. What will you do if you are accused of infringement?

These questions relate to the main causes of action around intellectual property and there are some simple steps that can be taken to prevent legal action:

  1. Carry out thorough searches to avoid accusations of infringement.
  2. Protect your ideas from the offset.
  3. Deal with any disputes in a timely manner, as this is the best way to avoid litigation.  Whether you are accused of infringement or feel that someone has infringed your IP, always seek specialist guidance and advice first.

Having spent vast amounts of time and money investing in your practice’s image and goodwill there is nothing worse than receiving a letter claiming that you are infringing someone else’s IP rights. You may have to stop immediately, remove all traces of the offending material, and start the whole process of branding and marketing again. You may also have to account for any profit you have made from the offending IP to the rights owner. Either way it’s likely to cost you a significant amount of money in legal fees alone – not to mention the costs of re-branding, damages and loss of goodwill.  There is also a real danger of inadvertently admitting liability of infringement when entering into correspondence without a professional understanding of the subtleties or nuances of intellectual property law.

So, before you even begin developing your new name and brand, it is essential to make sure that you’re not going to be stopped from using your name. Furthermore you will also need to ensure that someone else isn’t going to take advantage and use the same name, or image, effectively hijacking your goodwill.

This becomes particularly pertinent when considering your practice website and domain name. You cannot avoid the risk of a competitor using the same name as your website – with a different suffix (.com or .co.uk or .dental for that matter). But you cannot allow them to use the confusing similarity to siphon off your goodwill.   Domain name disputes are increasingly common, and are dealt with by the domain registrar (not in the courts). However, an underlying intellectual property right is the trump card in such disputes. Identify your IP, protect your IP and avoid losing any goodwill.

In the same way that you wouldn’t leave your house or a new sports car unlocked, if you are investing thousands of pounds into launching a business and years of hard work growing your business, you shouldn’t let people steal your identity, your customers and all the goodwill you’ve built up. By seeking out professional, experienced, specialist advice you can be sure to avoid the intellectual property trap, and protect your business and your goodwill from anyone who might infringe upon it. 

If you do fall into the intellectual property trap, contact us immediately at Goodman Grant Solicitors for honest, expert guidance and pragmatic advice.

© 2014 Goodman Grant Solicitors Ltd

Paul Edels of Goodman Grant Lawyers for Dentists

For more information call Paul Edels on 0151 707 0090 or email

pbe@goodmangrant.co.uk

www.goodmangrant.co.uk


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