We have previously written about the benefits of charities and not-for-profits registering their trademarks – whether this be the name or logo of your charity or not-for-profit. The main benefit of having a trademark is that it identifies your charity or not-for-profit and gives it the distinctive brand that separates it from other charitable or non-charitable bodies.
But what if your charity or not-for-profit comes up with a particularly inventive solution to a problem, or designs a product that has a distinctive look or feel? What protection can you get?
Register a design
In Australia, you can register a design if it is new and distinctive when compared to existing designs or information that has been made available to the public. The design doesn’t have to be a ‘design’ in the strict sense of the word. It simply refers to the overall appearance of the product resulting from its visual features. Because of this, many devices that have been created to alleviate poverty or reduce people’s suffering could easily fall under this heading. Things such as medical equipment, devices for getting water, a unique automotive part or an interestingly-shaped piece of furniture could all be registered as designs if they meet the ‘new’ and ‘distinctive’ threshold.
"Registration gives you a renewable monopoly over the design for a period of 5 years ..."
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The registration of a design will attract a relatively small fee, but this fee will allow charities or not-for-profits to exercise exclusive rights over the design. Registration gives you a renewable monopoly over the design for a period of 5 years, and allows you to make a product which incorporates the design and to deal with the product with the design in a commercial sense (e.g. to import the product, to sell or hire the product and to use the product in any way for the purposes of trade or business). It also gives the charity or not-for-profit much stronger rights over the design than those offered by an unregistered design, meaning that if someone copies your design and is exploiting it for commercial gain, it is much easier to bring an action against them, and you are more likely to succeed.
Patents are another form of intellectual property protection, because they give exclusive rights to the creator of an invention. These are usually much more expensive to obtain because they give the inventor a monopoly over the invention, and the invention often has the potential to be a lucrative enterprise for its creator. Typically, patents are obtained in the healthcare industry for medical devices and pharmaceutical products, but this does not mean they are restricted to this industry.
Charities and not-for-profits should also consider how they can protect their copyrighted works. Unlike designs or patents, there is no registration process for copyright but the owners of artistic, musical, literary and dramatic works should be aware that they can still protect their rights from copying or from commercial exploitation. These works could range from a drama depicting the need to raise funds for a charitable cause, to a sculpture of a child, a computer database or software or a diagram or photograph used in a presentation. Whilst not all of these may be particularly lucrative, copyright owners such as charities and not-for-profits can often obtain some form of remedy where a third party has deliberately copied the whole of or a substantial part of that work, especially where the third party has benefited from this in some way.
Whilst not all of these forms of intellectual property protection might be necessary for your charity or not-for-profit, being aware of your intellectual property rights can be very useful in the event that someone else is benefiting from the fruits of your labour. Please contact