Let’s say you’re the boss of MegaWidget. It’s a small company but you’ve put a lot of effort into your product, and it’s the most innovative widget on the market. You know that in order to stop people simply copying your widget, you have to protect it with intellectual property rights.
You’ve put a lot of work into your marketing, and now MegaWidget is a highly trusted brand within the marketplace. You need a trademark to protect this brand.
You’ve done a lot of R&D and come up with a tweak that makes your widget work better than anyone else’s. You need a patent to protect this innovation.
You’ve done a lot of design work, and your widget has a quirky shape that makes it stand out from the others. You want design right to protect this feature.
So let’s say you plan to expand into Europe. Thirty years ago, you would have needed to get protection in each individual country you wanted to sell into, and this would have cost you thousands and thousands of pounds. Add a few more thousands. And a few more. That’s about right. You can’t afford it? Sorry, you’ll have to risk selling without these rights. Ah, someone’s copying your product and branding, and undercutting you because copying is cheaper than innovation. Oh well, best leave expansion into Europe to the big boys, because it’s just too expensive for SMEs… Fast forward thirty years…
Nowadays, we have a harmonised intellectual property system in the EU. You can register a trademark that covers all 28 countries, and will automatically cover any new ones that join. It’s amazing value for money for the protection you get. In fact, it can be cheaper to get a trademark that covers the whole EU than to get one in Switzerland.
You can register a design that also covers all 28 countries, for the same price as one that only covers the UK. And also you have three years of free design right that protects you against someone blatantly copying your design anywhere in the EU.
And as of next year, you’ll be able to get a patent that covers all 28 countries, saving you thousands upon thousands of pounds in fees, service charges and translation costs.
And not only is it now easier and cheaper to obtain these rights, it’s easier and cheaper to litigate them too. It used to be that if an Italian company used your registered trademark or copied your patented product, you’d have to take them to court in Italy. Trust me, you really don’t want to go to court in Italy. Now, you can take them to court in the UK, and you don’t even need to use an expensive barrister.
So with a small investment in your intellectual property rights, you can trade in the whole of the EU knowing that you’re protected from copying. You can compete with big business because the playing field has been levelled. Nice one, EU.
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