Guide

Intellectual property crime and your business

Protecting your business against intellectual property crime

Any kind of business that creates products (physical or digital) for sale - either to the general public or to other businesses - may need to enforce protection of their rights.

In terms of crime, intellectual property (IP) offers protection through trade marks, which help the potential buyer to differentiate your products from those offered by others and through the protections provided by copyright. The IP assets of a business can be varied and potentially include product designs, artwork and formulations, logos, packaging designs, and structures, trade marks and digital assets such as original software, photographs, music and videos. Any or all of these can be copied and sold to people who should be your customers.

The primary criminal offences relating to trade mark counterfeiting and copyright piracy are set out in the Trade Marks Act 1994 and the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The offences covered by the legislation include the manufacture, sale, importation and distribution of infringing items. An act may raise both criminal and civil law liability at the same time and the legislation sets out a range of restricted acts which may result in civil liability. Criminal offences can attract sentences of up to ten years and an unlimited fine depending on the nature of the offence and the type of court in which it is tried.

There is also the potential for law enforcement agencies to confiscate the proceeds of such crimes. You can find out about IP crime and infringement on the GOV.UK website.

In many instances, counterfeiting and piracy are highly organised and are carried out by professional criminals. Typical product groups include:

  • branded goods - eg clothing, fashion goods, perfumes, jewellery, spirits, industrial components, electrical goods and spare parts
  • music, films, computer games and books which are in digital formats, as well as computer software

To enforce your IP rights you first need to make sure you have the correct level of legal IP protection. These vary according to the particular type of asset, but will usually include:

  • Trade marks - these are signs consisting of words, a logo, a picture, a mark or a combination of these, which are used to distinguish your products, services or business from others. Trade marks can be registered in the countries where your business is marketed. Severe trade mark infringement involving counterfeiting is a criminal offence. See our guides on managing trade marks and how to use trade marks in your business.
  • Copyright - this is an automatic right granted to the first author of a creative work, such as music, film, a photograph, software or a book. Making or dealing in infringing copies of a copyrighted work, or causing the work to be shown in public, may raise criminal liability as well as civil infringement. See our guide on copyright for your business.
  • Patents - these are used to protect the formulation of new products and processes. Patents can be used with other IP protection, such as a trade mark or design right/registration. See our guide on how to get patent protection for your business.
  • Designs - designs of products are automatically protected through design right. However, designs can also be registered to give an additional form of protection. See our guide on design right and registration.

Once you have the appropriate form of protection, you need to monitor its use.