Whether you’ve just come up with a unique business idea, or you’ve been creating and selling it for a couple of years, protecting your idea is a smart move. It stops others stealing your concepts and means you save yourself and your business from long, expensive and distracting court cases.
Over the past decade, applications for intellectual property (IP) protection in the UAE have risen rapidly, and trademarks in particular have boomed – with 18,000 more applications in 2017 than 2011.
However, if you’re a startup with a unique business idea, product or technology, it’s generally recommended that you copyright your idea, rather than trademark it. Let’s see why.
The difference between trademarks and copyright
Trademarks and copyrights both protect intellectual property but are geared towards different aspects of it:
• Trademarks: protect anything to do with your branding – including logos, fonts, designs and colours which are uniquely yours
• Copyright: protects literary, artistic or scientific works, and can included created works as diverse as marketing content, computer software and industrial designs
Four reasons copyright is better than trademarks for UAE startups
Protecting your IP is not mandatory in the UAE, but is worth doing to avoid conflicts down the line. If you’re a startup selling a new business idea, it’s generally recommended you copyright your product rather than trademark it.
Trademarks are more useful for companies that aim to sell products or services to state authorities or participate in tenders within the UAE. Very often, these kinds of companies will not necessarily be creating their own original works, but rather will be deploying other people’s IP. Think of the classic large IT contractor deploying a Microsoft programme to a government department. That kind of business will mainly want to protect their brand and logo with trademarks to ensure no one mistakes them for anyone else.
However, if you’re a startup that’s invented a new product or idea, copyright is the way to go. Let’s look at why.
1. Faster process
Especially when you’re just starting out, this kind of speedy application is so important, allowing you to protect your idea quickly and quietly before anyone else has heard of you.
Say you’re a startup with a clever new idea. While you may grow fast, a bigger competitor with a larger budget could swoop in and steal your idea and face no legal ramifications if your idea isn’t copyright protected. Because the process of applying for a trademark in the UAE is relatively slow, a competitor who stole your idea could influence the market and appear to be the business that came up with the original idea – leaving your start-up in the dust.
2. Longer protection
Copyright offers long-term protection – in place for the life of the author, plus 50 (or more) years after their death. On the other hand, trademarks in the UAE expire after just 10 years. You’ll then need to reapply for the trademark and pay relevant fees for doing so.
Protecting your IP will always involve some form-filling, time and expense, but at least once something’s copyrighted, you’ll never have to do it again (and won’t have to remember to register again 10 years down the line).
Also, it’s important to be pragmatic. Maybe you’ve come up with a good idea for a business, but in your first attempt it just doesn’t work out for some reason. However, by copyrighting the idea, you can come back to it years down the line and the IP is still protected and still yours.
3. Global cover
A UAE-registered trademark is only enforceable within the UAE, whereas copyright covers 167 countries across the globe. Copyright means that if a competitor abroad somewhere decides to imitate your idea, you’ll be able to take them to court.
Imagine you developed a start-up food delivery service in Dubai which was really successful. If you’ve only trademarked your product, there’s nothing to stop a startup in, say, Qatar, imitating your software, business model, user interface and even your branding. On the other hand, if you’ve copyrighted the business, you’ll be able to sue them and prevent them from using your IP.
4. Lower cost
A complete copyright registration starts out at just Dhs7,000, whereas trademark registration will set you back between Dhs16,000 and Dhs30,000.
As a startup with a tight budget, it makes little sense to pay more for a kind of IP protection which covers less of your ideas, lasts less time and takes longer to register for, when copyright is cheaper, long-lasting and fast.
Copyright is the smart choice for startups
Choosing copyright to protect your idea is the smart choice while you are starting out. For most startups, your unique idea is the thing that’s really going to help you grow, so you want to do everything to protect that and ensure no one tries to muscle in on your market.
Put more bluntly, you can worry about trademarks once your brand is more established, whereas if someone bigger has stolen your idea, your trademark-protected logo really won’t count for a lot.
Once you’ve set up your UAE business, your company formation partner will be able to help you through the process of registering your idea. As soon as your idea is protected, you can then launch it on the world with the peace of mind that no one can steal it – or the profits it’ll generate.
Olga Melnyk is head of Business Development at Virtuzone