Intellectual Property: How to protect your rights while fostering innovation

Today, most entrepreneurs or creatives rely on creating bright business ideas, great brands and eye-catching designs but forget to protect these ideas from being exploited by others. In September 2010, the Parliament of Uganda passed the Trademarks Act, 2010 to capture all aspects of intellectual Property rights, and protect or enable their businesses to benefit from their creative ideas or innovations. This law covers all aspects of in-borne ideas, information and creation that are both tangible and intangible in nature and includes forms of: – Patents, Trademarks, Copyright, and Trade secrets.  

As Creatives and Innovators, you can harness the legal monopoly power of Intellectual Property (IP) rights to protect your products; increase your product visibility and value on the market; create a distinguished product or service identity against competition, and avoid the risks of being exploited.  

Here are quick facts you need to know 

  1. Patents cover business inventions: Entrepreneurs who invent or discover or make improvements to any new process, machines or developments can obtain patent rights. However, for you to acquire these rights, your inventions must be novel, have a useful purpose and be non-obvious. Once a patent is granted, the invention can be protected for 20 years. Patent laws are incredibly technical and require the expertise and guidance of patent lawyers or patent agents to help you with the legal application process.  
  2.  Copyright: Just as the word sounds, it is the right to make/publish copies of your work that prevents others from benefiting from your creativity. This protects your work as an author of art, documentation, music, movies, or designs. Examples include campaign slogans; marketing copy and graphics designs other than logos or name. Although copyrights do not protect ideas, they protect the ways these ideas are made. Authors of work can sell their copyrights or license their rights but retain all the rights to the piece of work except for those you specifically grant to license for a specific period. 
  3. Trademarks or service marks: These are signs or marks for products and services used for branding businesses for commerce. They are legal monopolies used to identify brand names, logos, products and services against the competition in mainstream commerce. They are intended to make your products and services unique and identifiable in a free marketplace. These must be used in an active commercial space, or you risk losing them to somebody else. 

The two types of Trademarks are: Common law and registered trademarks.  

Common-Law Trademarks are usually identified by the “TM” or “sm” mark. They do not necessarily need legal registration, but one can be sued for infringement if they use the same mark on a similar product. On the other hand, a registered trademark, identified by ® label, legally protects your products or services from infringement and theft. It is crucial to note that while a registered trademark ® provides you with all the legal protection, not everything can be trademarked, and the product names cannot be a generic terms. They cannot be merely descriptive, a geographical location or like an existing registered trademark but rather be suggestive, coined or arbitrary. Therefore, when choosing a trademark, it is important for entrepreneurs to do a thorough trademark search with the help of a lawyer.  

Finally, we have trade secrets: This entails information including formulae, programs, patterns, compilation, devices or methods that derive independent economic value that cannot be patented, copyrighted or trademarked. Protection of trade secrets can be done through limited access to this information or restrictive agreements with employees or partners like confidentiality agreements, Non-disclosure Agreements (NDAs) or Assignment of Rights Agreements to contractors. 

At The Innovation Village, through our Legal Tech Lab, we support young innovators and entrepreneurs with navigating the IP registration process. As we remember World Intellectual Property Day, it’s important for you as creators to know your IP rights. Get counsel from legal practitioners/lawyers before attempting to file patents, copyright or registering for a trademark on your intellectual property. Also, remember to get permission when using or creating works based on other people’s intellectual property and if you are working with people you don’t trust with your trade secrets, remember to get them to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) and “Assignments” from everyone who contributes IP or performs creative work for your business.  

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