Intellectual property disputes usually involve a third party using intellectual property that does not belong to them without the owner’s permission. This is known as ‘infringement’ and can lead to lengthy and hard-fought intellectual property disputes. It is essential to have an experienced intellectual property solicitor by your side when embroiled in an intellectual property dispute to ensure your interests are fully protected.
What Are IP Disputes?
‘Intellectual property’ is an umbrella term for creations of the mind, such as musical works, inventions or drawings. Despite its intangibility, intellectual property can be extremely valuable. In fact, the value of a business’s IP can often far outweigh that attributable to its physical assets. As a result, IP owners spend considerable sums on protecting their IP to ensure third parties cannot use it to pass their own goods and services off as being those of the IP owner.
If someone uses intellectual property that does not belong to them without permission, they may be liable for intellectual property infringement. Examples of infringing acts include the following:
- A new company using branding that is the same as, or similar to, that of an existing business. The branding might be protected as a trade mark and may also qualify for copyright protection, so the new company’s use may constitute infringement.
- A business launching a product with the same ‘look and feel’ as that of a competitor, such as a distinctive bottle. If the bottle is protected as a trade mark or is eligible for design right potection, the IP owner may have a claim against its competitor for infringement.
- A producer sampling music written by someone else without first obtaining permission. Musical works are protected by copyright, so such use may give rise to an infringement claim by the owner of the copyright in the original song.
How To Deal With An Intellectual Property Dispute
Intellectual property issues can be complex and difficult to navigate, so it is crucial to seek advice from an experienced intellectual property solicitor as soon you become aware of a potential intellectual property dispute.
The first step in most intellectual property disputes is for the IP owner’s solicitor to prepare and send a letter to the infringing third party, detailing their client’s rights and the infringing activities. Often, a strongly worded letter from a solicitors’ firm can suffice to bring the infringements to an end or at least open the lines of communication between the parties to explore a settlement of the issue.
If the intellectual property issues cannot be resolved amicably at this early stage, it might be necessary to issue Court proceedings against the infringer. Your intellectual property solicitor will prepare the documentation to be lodged at Court commencing the claim, and then serve it on the other side in accordance with the ‘Civil Procedure Rules’, a set of rules governing civil proceedings in the UK.
The parties must then follow a Court-imposed timetable, which will include steps such as exchanging witness statements and disclosing all relevant documentation. When all relevant steps have been completed, the case will be heard by a Judge. Intellectual property disputes often take months or even years to reach trial.
Court proceedings involving IP disputes are notoriously expensive and unpredictable. However, most intellectual property solicitors view litigation very much as a last resort, preferring instead to settle the intellectual property issues through alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation. Indeed, the Courts expect the parties to an intellectual property dispute to explore alternative means of settlement before trial. If the parties, or one of them, fails to do so, the Court may penalise them on costs. Accordingly, very few intellectual property disputes reach Court. Most of them settle either before proceedings are issued, or at least before trial.
Alternative dispute resolution methods are quicker, cheaper, less stressful than litigation, and can produce excellent results. Your intellectual property disputes solicitor will advise on which, if any, method is most suitable in your case and guide you through the relevant process.
What Relief Is Available In Cases Involving IP Disputes?
If the intellectual property owner’s claim succeeds, the types of relief most commonly awarded by the Court are as follows:
- An injunction to permanently prohibit the third party from using the intellectual property in question.
- Delivery up of any infringing material.
- Damages or an account of profits.
- Costs. The usual rule is that costs follow the event, meaning that the unsuccessful party must pay the successful party’s costs. However, a successful party rarely, if ever, recovers the entirety of their costs, and can expect to receive in the region of 2/3.
Given the intrinsic value of a business’s intellectual property, any intellectual property issues must be addressed swiftly and decisively. Intellectual property disputes solicitors have vast experience in protecting their clients’ IP rights and will ensure your intellectual property issues are resolved as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, enabling you to concentrate on the continuing success of your business.
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