Intellectual property law

The law of intellectual property is concerned with a disparate collection of rights: patents and trade marks, passing off, copyright and rights in designs, confidential information and know-how, and so on.  What brings all these legal rights together is that they are primarily concerned with protecting the products of the mind: hence, intellectual property.

However, there is as much to separate the rights as there is to bring them together.

Registered and unregistered rights

One basic distinction is between registered and unregistered rights.  Registered rights come into being through a registration procedure proscribed by law.  Patents and trade marks are examples of registered rights.  Unregistered rights spring into being without any formalities: for example, copyright will protect a work that meets the statutory criteria without any filings or fees or other formalities (indeed, it is a requirement of the Berne Convention that copyright be free from formalities).

Hard IP vs soft IP

Different intellectual property lawyers will specialise in different areas of intellectual property law.  One common distinction is between “soft” IP lawyers and “hard” IP lawyers.  The former specialise in non-patent intellectual property (copyright, trade marks, designs), while the latter specialise in patents and similar rights.

Attorneys, solicitors, barristers

Another three-way distinction is between those professionals involved in:

Trade mark attorneys and patent agents file and prosecute most of the UK’s trade mark and patent applications, but solicitors may also take on this work (especially trade mark filings). IP solicitors are primarily responsible for intellectual property transactions.  Whilst litigators (solicitors specialising in contentious matters) and barristers handle disputes and court proceedings.

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