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Should you protect your Intellectual Property (IP)?

Should you protect your Intellectual Property (IP)?

In the current situation with the coronavirus pandemic, we are seeing a huge increase in innovation to try and ease the problems being faced. This not only includes the work being done to find a treatment and a vaccine for Covid-19, but also the innovations being developed in a host of other areas, such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), tracking and tracing apps, ventilators and face masks to name but a few.

The collaborative spirit is fantastic to see with many of the innovations being offered either for free or on a not for profit basis; however, does this mean that there is no need to protect these innovations?

On the one hand, there is huge benefit in Covid-19 innovations being free for all, especially when thinking about vaccines and treatments. On the other hand, is there enough incentive for companies to continue to innovate if everyone is free to use the technologies now and in the future?

There is often a thought that protecting Intellectual Property (IP) in a new technology prevents that technology being available for all. This would clearly be undesirable in relation to a vaccine for Covid-19. What about a new and improved item of PPE? Surely the answer would be the same - under the current situation, it is simply not right that PPE could be prevented from being made available to all.

However, what happens in the future when there is no longer an urgent public need for these innovations? What if someone finds a new use for an innovation in a highly profitable area of technology? In these situations, one can see that it could be right for these innovations to be protected by IP and for the company that created them to enjoy a commercial reward. Unfortunately, if they are not protected before they are publicly disclosed, it will not be possible to protect them at a later date.

What about the thought that protecting IP in a new technology prevents that technology from being available for all? Actually, this does not have to be the case. In fact, protecting IP simply means that the owner of the IP has a choice in the matter. They are free to allow all to use their innovation whilst it is needed and then recoup some of their investment at a later date.

What about possible delays in protecting the IP in a new product? Doesn't it take years to obtain patent protection? Whilst it is true that it can take many years to obtain a granted patent, all that is required is for a patent application to be filed before an invention is made public. This can be done in a matter of days and so there should be no need for protecting the IP in a new product to delay launch of that product. Whilst patents protect how a product works, there are also registered designs to consider which can be filed very quickly and protect the appearance of a product.

All in all, it seems there is no reason not to protect the IP in innovations. To the contrary, whilst there are certainly situations in which advances in technology should be made available to all, it seems only right that the companies who are willing to develop and provide this technology should have the opportunity to be rewarded for their work at an appropriate time in the future.

About the author

Mark Sweetinburgh is a Chartered (UK) and European Patent Attorney and a partner in the firm Sweetinburgh & Windsor (, based in Crawley, West Sussex.

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