Why IP protection is vital to toy businesses

How registering product design rights can help protect your next big toy, says James Hardy, the Head of Europe for business e-commerce site Alibaba.com.
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Many businesses know they ought to become more intellectual property (IP) literate, but they often don’t know where to start. 

Getting documentation regarding the utility of your product and registering your design rights is especially important for those in the toy design and manufacturing industry.

The process for applying for IP protection varies depending on what country you are in, so always be sure to check with your country’s IP office to find out specifics related to your country’s application process. 

Design Rights

These are all about protecting the look of a product. It's a useful form of IP if, for example, your product comes in a box with a distinctive pattern. Design Rights can be used for 3D designs as well as 2D ones. Be sure to find out how long they give protection for; in the UK, for instance, it's 25 years, providing they are renewed.

Utility Patent

Another important category for those in the toy business, a utility patent protects the way an invention is used and how it works. Utility patents can be granted to anyone who invents something through a new and useful method or process.


Applying for a patent is a costly and lengthy process, but securing one means you can stop other people copying your idea. Patents are only granted to ideas which are genuinely new. This means research is needed to establish the genuine innovation of a product. This research is known as a ‘prior art’ search and it involves looking at various databases which give details of previous patents awarded in particular fields.

You can hire a patent attorney to do this work for you. 


As with patents, trademark rules vary from country to country. For your trademark to be accepted, it must be distinctive, and not describe the goods or services offered by your company. Trademarks can and have been refused if they fail to meet these criteria. Again, as with patents, a database search is advisable prior to registration to establish whether anyone else has a similar mark that could conflict with yours. 

Once you have a registered trademark, you can licence other people to use it too.

You will also need to renew the trademark to keep it in force.

For more, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has useful information on its website, as does the Alibaba guide at education.ipstreet.com.

About the author

James Hardy is the Head of Europe for business e-commerce site www.alibaba.com, a leading global e-commerce platform for small businesses around the world. Contact 020 7258 5111.



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