Do You Own Your Own Website – Intellectual Property Considerations

Websites are full of intellectual property, from the page layout itself to designs and images contained within and even the coding that you can’t see (or knew existed)!  It is important that you ensure that you protect the intellectual property in your website and at the very least that you actually own it.

Various forms of intellectual property can be registered and it may be the case that you need more than one type of protection for any given thing.  Registrable rights include trade mark, design rights and occasionally patent.  There are other non-registrable rights including copyright and database rights. The fact that they cannot be registered makes them no less important and these two examples are the most common when it comes to website intellectual property.

Trade Mark is used to protect your brand, be it a name or logo and recent successful applications also suggest that look and feel can now also be protected if it is distinctive enough, take the layout of Apple stores as one such example.

Registered design is used to protect a product’s appearance including its unique shape, packaging, patterns, colours and decoration and if these appear on your website then you may wish to consider this.

Patent will protect against new inventions and products, for example machines and machine parts, tools and medicines.

Websites are full of copyright, an automatic right which protects original works of authorship and will include website content, appearance and the coding which allows us to see what we see on screen.

To ensure that you own the copyright in your website it is important that agreements are entered into between you and anyone who you commission to write content on your behalf and those who programme and host your website.  This will not only make your website more valuable to your business but also ensure that in the event that you wish to move host or developer, that you can do so with minimal fuss and legal issues.  Such agreements will also cover who owns the database of valuable client information held in the website’s ‘back end’.

It is also important to implement terms and conditions for those who use and interact with your website whether it be through ecommerce, blogging, the use of a forum or simply viewing different webpages.  The Information Commissioner’s Office has powers to fine businesses up to £500,000 for failure to comply with data protection legislation and these are all new considerations which need to be taken into effect before ‘going live’.

Whilst recent case law has held that viewing a website in itself is not copyright infringement, having the right copyright notices in place send out the right signals to help protect you against those who may be inclined to infringe your rights.  We would always advise having your own tailor made terms and conditions and use of those from another website would in itself constitute copyright infringement.  Importantly what may work for one business is unlikely to work for another and are not likely to offer you the protection that you need.

Intellectual property legislation affecting online businesses is constantly changing and forthcoming updates are due in the next few weeks.  Protecting your website’s intellectual property and ensuring that you are compliant with the latest legislation is important.

For advice and assistance on identifying and protecting the intellectual property in your website either through registration or the production of terms and conditions contact the Forbes Solicitors Business Law department by telephone on 0800 037 4628 or via our Contact Form.

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