Copyright: Inventors learn from the errors of Rubik: Warding off pirates is no game, writes Ian Hunter

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EXPLOITING a brilliant idea successfully is not a straightforward process, as Erno Rubik, the originator of the Rubik Cube, found out. Unhappily, the professor's intellectual property rights were insufficiently protected, allowing others to make a commercial success out of his idea.

James Hayward and Niall Ferris do not intend to make the same mistake. They have devised a game called 'Who's in the Bag?', based on a Victorian parlour game. The objective is to describe famous characters, whose names are written on cards drawn from a bag, to the other members of the player's team. The game continues until all the cards are drawn from the bag and the team with the most cards wins.

In Britain, most forms of intellectual property are governed by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 and the Patents Act 1977. The Copyright Act protects material recorded in a tangible form, which includes anything on paper, on film and in electronic form (such as computer tapes), as well as artistic works and broadcasts.

Copyright protection is obtained automatically when the idea is produced. However, Lynda Farmer, an intellectual property specialist with a City law firm, Turner Kenneth Brown, said: 'I would advise any client to take practical steps to record their ownership, such as getting into the habit of putting the copyright symbol, the name of the author and the date of creation on every piece of work.'

Copying, modifying or translating material without permission amounts to an infringement of copyright, though it does not prevent others using the information.

Infringements entitle an author to apply for an injunction to prevent further unauthorised use. Alternatively, the author can sue for damages. Copyright protection stays in force for 50 years beyond the author's life.

Mr Hayward and Mr Ferris are also registering their game with the Designs Registry. Registration means the owner can prevent others using the same or a similar design. The sanction for using an unauthorised design is the same as that for breach of copyright.

Anyone intent on exploiting an idea should make a search of the registry before incurring substantial costs in developing and promoting the concept. Design protection lasts for 25 years provided the renewal fees are paid.

'Who's in the Bag' will also be registered as a trademark. Before the Trade Marks Registry will register a mark it must be satisfied that the logo or words are distinctive and the trademark is not misleading or similar to existing marks. Protection lasts for as long as the renewal fees are paid, and prevents others using similar marks. Registering a trademark can take at least two years, Ms Farmer says.

Mr Hayward and Mr Ferris also spent a considerable sum employing an agent to register the trademark and design worldwide. According to Mr Hayward, it has cost on average pounds 500 per country to obtain protection. Most of the leading industrial nations are signatories to conventions giving copyright created in one country protection in other signatory states.

As Mr Hayward says: 'Ultimately, it is not worth the expense of protecting an idea unless it has a good chance of succeeding commercially. Fortunately, the reaction received from those retailers who have seen the game has been very positive. To date stockists include Harrods, Hamleys, Selfridges, Virgin and Debenhams.'

Securing intellectual property rights is also of little use unless there are funds to bring a legal action. As a precaution they have taken legal expenses insurance.

'Who's in the Bag?' is due to be launched in August.

(Photograph omitted)