Guide to your IP rights

  • The Brain of a Bear (double page spread) by Joseph Childs (Communication Art & D

Intellectual property rights, commonly referred to as IP, describes creative output and content (not ideas, concepts or business models). IP can protect music, literary and artistic works, inventions, words, phrases, symbols and designs, and so on. Essentially, IP stops people from stealing your ideas.

IP laws give you various types of exclusive rights.  Without these laws, you would have no legal framework to prevent your work being copied. This is a quick run-through of all the basic facts you should know about how to protect your work, but in the case of any serious IP issues it’s always best to consult a professional.

If you’re a current RCA student…

The RCA owns the rights to your work during your studies and the rights are automatically transferred to you when you graduate (except for films produced by Animation students, the rights to which remain the property of the RCA forever). See the RCA Regulations for more on this.

Before speaking to a third party about the development or commercialisation of your project you must inform InnovationRCA and make clear to the third party that the RCA owns the rights.

For everyone else…

If your work has the potential to make money, do not tell anybody about the details unless they have signed a confidentiality agreement form – otherwise you may automatically lose your legal protection.

What are the different types of IP?

Copyright is the right to prevent copying of original literary, artistic and musical works, e.g. photographs, drawings, architectural plans, designs and paintings. It arises automatically whenever such a work is created. It typically lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years – with some exceptions.

Design rights protect what things look like: their shape or form. These rights arise automatically when a work is created, and can be additionally registered to get longer and broader protection.

A trade mark is a kind of brand that helps you to distinguish your product from that of your competitors e.g., a logo. Your trade mark can be registered or unregistered, but registered trade marks can be easier to enforce in the courts.

Patents protect your inventions from being exploited without your permission. An invention could be a product or a method/process for doing something. It must be new and be able to be used in industry. You must apply for a separate patent in each country where you wish to protect your invention, but you can do this in stages if you don’t want to pay for everything at once. Patents must be renewed every year and last for up to 20 years.

You cannot patent your invention if you have publicly revealed it! Before speaking to anybody about your work (apart from your RCA tutors and InnovationRCA), make sure you file a patent application. You can also ask them to sign a confidentiality agreement, but a patent is a better idea.

Top tips

  • It’s fine to talk to people within the RCA about your ideas, because RCA students and staff have signed up to a confidentiality clause in their contracts and registration documents, but if you’re talking to someone from outside, make sure you have IP protection or get them to sign a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement.
  • Make sure you agree – in writing – on the allocation of rights before starting a project. Any person or company that has substantial input into your work could legally have a right to be cited as a joint-inventor on your patent, for example, or claim ownership of design rights.
  • Prove ownership of your work by sending drawings of designs to yourself by special delivery, which gives a clear date stamp on the envelope. Leave the delivered envelope unopened. You should also keep signed/dated copies of intermediate sketches.
  • You can also prove ownership of your computer generated work by keeping date stamped versions digitally or emailing them to yourself.
  • Mark your work with the copyright symbol © followed by your name, the RCA (if work carried out while studying at the RCA) and the date to warn others against copying it.