Starting a Business? How to protect your ideas and creative expressions | Glasgow Chamber of Commerce
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Starting a Business? How to protect your ideas and creative expressions

By Angus MacLeod, Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP

If you’re running a fledgling businesses, it’s natural to focus on growth first, and worry about intellectual property - patents, trademarks and copyright - later. 

You might think that protecting your intellectual property (IP) is an unnecessary financial burden at a time when there are lots of competing calls for your attention and capital is tight. 

But if you don’t consider the implications of protecting your IP at the outset, it could cost you a lot later. Angus MacLeod, Partner at Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP in Inverness explains more. 

Intellectual property takes many forms – make sure you know the difference between copyright, patents and trademarks for example. 

What is copyright?

Copyright law protects your creative expressions but not your ideas. Copyright protects original content that has been written down or recorded e.g. books, films, songs, plays, dance, sound recordings, drawings, photography, emails – and computer software. 

Names, titles, colours and straplines are not generally considered sufficiently creative to qualify for copyright, but the creation of a logo for example that combines these elements may be. 

Who owns copyright?

Usually, the author of the work will be the copyright owner unless otherwise agreed at the outset. 

Freelance or commissioned work will usually belong to the author of the work. For example, if a photographer has been commissioned then they will own the rights in the photography, not the client. 

Copyright lasts for 25 years, or up to 70 years after the death of the original author, depending on the nature of the work. 

Patents & Trademarks

Unlike copyright, both patents and (for best effect) trade marks must be registered. 

Patents protect inventions and products such as technology solutions. You can’t patent a business idea unless it involves a new product or process in some way. Patents last for a maximum of twenty years. 

Trademarks protect names, logos and brands. They are used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services. Trade marks can last forever, provided they’re kept in use. 


  • Consider the importance of IP and the implications for your business at the outset. Seek good legal advice to find out what’s important, and how and when to protect it.
  • If you are thinking of setting up a business check the IPO (Intellectual Property Office) to ensure a trademark is not already registered. If you are exporting goods to Europe or further afield, check the equivalent IPO in that country and look at registering your intellectual property in those locations. A formal trade mark search will give more certainty. This will obviously add to the cost but it’s advisable to consider it. 
  • Develop your IP strategy in conjunction with your business plan. This will help you to identify when protection for your IP should be sought.
  • IP takes many forms – make sure you know the difference between patents, trademarks and copyright. Make sure you’re clear on which IP you are creating, how you will use it, and how you will protect its value to your business. 
  • If you are looking to raise finance, an IP strategy is imperative. Even at pre-seed stage, a start up needs to demonstrate an understanding of the IP landscape to give investors assurance their capital won’t be wasted. Spend time researching what grants might be available towards legal costs.
  • The unfolding Brexit scenario is likely to add some uncertainty to the process of securing IP for UK based businesses over the short to medium term. Thanks to the UK being party to a range of international IP treaties, though, it’s still worth investing in proper overseas protection. 
  • Don’t disclose your ideas before you submit a patent. Be careful about who you tell, and make good use of NDAs and confidentiality agreements. 

Finally, seek good advice – IP is a minefield and getting it wrong can be costly. 

Angus MacLeod is a partner at Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie. Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie is a full-service, independent Scottish law firm, with a history stretching back over 160 years. The firm has offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness and Dunblane. Further information can be found at

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