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How to Protect Your Design in Overseas Markets

Once you’ve started a business or come up with a product that could be quite lucrative, it’s natural that you want to do everything in your power to protect it. Just like with any other kind of intellectual property, designs should also be registered in order to secure ownership.

WIPO defines a design as the ornamental or aesthetic aspect of an article. It refers to the shape, pattern or configuration of a product, which
makes it unique.

Now, the logical first step would be registering the design in your own country. After having done that, you can decide to register it in other countries as well, seeing as how intellectual property rights are territorial. However, this process might take a lot of money and time. So, to be properly prepared before you take this step, here is everything you need to know about registering a design in an overseas market.

1. Why you Should Register your Design

Some business owners are afraid of expanding their business into other countries because they think that someone will copy their idea and profit from it, which will decrease their chances of competing. However, you should not miss out on new, potentially more lucrative markets because of that.

That is why you need to understand the benefits of registering your design and the risks of not doing it. If you decide against it, you will not be able to prevent other individuals and companies from presenting your IP as their own. They could copy your products, trademarks and branding, and there is nothing you can do about them making money off your business.

2. Start by Conducting an Audit

Once you decide to register your design, your first step should be to perform a simple audit. It is important to see which kinds of IP you own as it can help you see what needs protecting. This will also tell you which items you have the permission to use.

While preparing to register a design in your own country, you should also look into foreign markets. This can help you see whether there is a product or design similar to yours somewhere else, which might make the whole design registering process a lot harder.

3. Look for Professional Help

While you can do this audit and conduct a design search on your own, it might be best to turn to professionals for this. They can perform a detailed search and provide you with all sorts of advice. There are special laws and legislation that apply to design, and having a qualified lawyer on your side can make this whole process much quicker and easier. Moreover, they can tell you who is liable in case of infringement.

4. Be Aware of Different International Rules

When it comes to the process of design protection, it’s important to know that the rules are not the same in every country. This is also something that your attorneys can help you with.

The above-mentioned WIPO, an agency of the UN, deals with international IP registration and protection. There are a few international treaties which help make the whole process of registering in several countries a bit easier.

There are the Patent Cooperation Treaty, which assists applicants with pattern protection, and the Madrid International Trademark System, dealing with trademark applications and management. However, when you are registering a design, you should look at The Hague International Design System. It allows registering up to 100 industrial designs in more than 65 countries with one single application.

For instance, more specifically, each and every application in the EU is examined in detail. On the other hand, in China, as long as you correctly pay the fee and fill in the form, you are able to register. If you plan on protecting your design in China, look into the term of protection and the grace period, among other things.

5. What are Your Options?

In order to properly protect your design, you need to know which options you have.

  • Design Registration

Depending on your product and design, you should look into registering your design, copyrights and trademark as well as applying for a patent. If your audit was successful and you found no other parties with the same design, you can continue with the process. You should decide on the markets you want to approach, look into their rules and apply. Be aware that the timing might be critical, so do it as soon as you can.

  • Draw Up Contracts

While registering your design is probably the first option you thought of, it is not the only one. You should consult with your lawyer and carefully construct contracts. They should be signed by all your employees, as well as any partner you may have overseas. The contract should include a clear ownership clause and a non-disclosure agreement. Having an NDA can protect your IP from the start.

  • Introduce Safety Measures

When starting an international business, you should strengthen your security procedures. This means that you should be able to quickly locate malicious activities, both by your employees and outsiders. Make sure to conduct background checks and restrict IP access only to essential people. Encrypt all IP, prohibit all unauthorized copies of it and physically lock the space where it is kept.

  • Get Insurance

Deciding to get intellectual property insurance is a great way to stay protected against legal costs, as it can cover both defending and enforcing claims.

6. How Long Does It Take?

The process of registering a design is generally simple and it typically takes a couple of months, unlike a patent which can take several years. In case there is an infringement, the process could take some time, until the issue is resolved. That is why you need to audit, to make this much quicker.

7. How Much Does It Cost?

This can be quite an expensive endeavor, especially if you decide to opt for multiple registrations. Registering everything at once might be the best way to stay protected, but it can also make you break the bank. Determine which element is the most important and don’t forget about the attorney and translator costs. Seeing as how costs vary from country to country, it’s best to contact your national IP office for more information. Furthermore, even though design registration lasts for 10 years, you will have to pay the renewal fees.

8. Legal Benefits

Once you’ve registered your design, you have the rights to use it. Those rights include being able to sue anyone who infringes on your intellectual property. If you can prove that they are using your design without permission, you can take legal action. Consult with an IP professional as they will provide you with the best approach to take. These laws differ depending on the country and it’s recommended to let your attorney deal with this. On the other hand, this might also be a great opportunity to find a partner and join forces with a similar business from overseas.

There you have it – all that you need to know about protecting your design overseas. As long you familiarize yourself with the procedure, do your homework when it comes to researching your design and get a professional to help you, you should have no problems with this. Good luck!

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