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HomeNEWSDesign protection: How small retailers can avoid IP issues

Design protection: How small retailers can avoid IP issues

When you’re starting up a business, it’s often through trial and error that you learn how to protect your brand and copyright. This was certainly the case for Beach Bandits, an online business that sells beach towels. We talked to Anton Blijlevens from AJ Park about how to avoid hairy IP issues.

Gisborne-based business Beach Bandits was forced to rescind an entire line of towels after unknowingly breaching a Californian company’s copyright on the towel design.

AJ Park partner Anton Blijevens, who often advises start-ups, says in the case of Beach Bandits, the safest approach would have been for it to design a graphic itself, making sure competitors know whom the design belongs to. In the case of Beach Bandits, its Chinese manufacturer came up with the design.

Another good option would have been to commission a graphic designer to draft a design but be sure to stipulate that their design doesn’t reflect anybody else’s design, says Blijevens.

When dealing with suppliers offshore, it’s important to have a good contract in place with warranties that the deal with be trouble-free. Although, Blijevens warns that contracts in countries like China aren’t bullet-proof.

“In China, contracts can be hit and miss and some suppliers will sign anything,” he says.

Initially, Beach Bandit’s Tegan Ingoe conducted an online search to see if the design was replicated anywhere else, and couldn’t find anything.

Blijevens warns that image searches on Google aren’t very reliable, although it can be a way to see if designs aren’t replicated with some of the larger retailers, for instance, who are more prominent on the internet.

The biggest stumbling block that start-ups tend to come up against is not realising the importance of IP protection right at the start, he says.

“Once a start-up technology has been released, the different types of IP protection become less. You can’t file a patent application after you publicly disclose your invention,” he says.

IP is an umbrella term, and different IP rights are available for new ideas, he says.

Trade marks are available for brand protection, patents for inventions, registered designs (protection for the shape of products), and copywright for images, films and text.

Unregistered trademarks are free, and you can use the TM in the circle on your products.

If you want more protection, then you can register your brand, which means you can use the R in the circle on your products.

This costs between $1,000 to $1,2000 and ensures national protection of your brand, he says.

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