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Ideas can’t be protected

Do you have an idea in mind that you want to turn into a professional activity? But, oh my, are you scared that someone is going to steal it from you! Who do you turn to? How can you protect your newly developing business while continuing to grow it? Is it necessary? Intellectual property is a complex matter. Here, we will provide you with the most useful information that you need to know as an entrepreneur (whether you’re a beginner or not) regarding intellectual property in Luxembourg.

I’m scared that someone will steal my idea!

The first thing to consider: there is a great deal of confusion surrounding the protection of ideas! An idea can’t be protected by intellectual property. Only the particular expression of an idea or creation can be protected. Thus, when it is at a more advanced stage than just a simple idea. So an idea, a concept, a method, a skill and information can’t be protected in that form!

That doesn't mean you shouldn't talk to anyone about anything! Because what’s the point in developing an idea if nobody is interested in it? Take great care choosing the people you want to brainstorm and share precious secrets with when checking that there is a market fit. Nevertheless, think about what information can be divulged to others and what requires a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before being divulged, especially when you are transforming your idea into a business. You can request more information from an intellectual property expert concerning what information should be kept confidential in order to protect it further down the line.

Even so, I can’t really do anything until my idea is expressed in a creation…

Parasitism and unfair competition are sometimes invoked but don’t fall under intellectual property rights… However, it’s possible to file an i-DEPOT: a physical or electronic envelope which is recorded by the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP). It will remain confidential unless the sender requests to make it public.

An i-DEPOT doesn’t protect your idea and doesn’t grant you rights. It is solely proof of possession of content at a certain date. Dating possession of content can be useful under some circumstances. You can also combine it with a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in your contracts and/or mandates.

But what should I protect then?

Legally, there is no obligation. Yes, you heard it! In Luxembourg, owning a trademark isn’t mandatory. This means that you are not legally obliged to protect your creations or to register a trademark even though it can often be very useful! It’s up to you to decide how you want to protect your immaterial assets.

However, you are legally obliged to not impinge on the rights of others. In any case, it is always highly recommended to look into intellectual property as soon as possible.

OK… So, what can I protect?

There are four main types of creations that can be protected for Luxembourg. They can be found on Luxembourg’s Ministry of the Economy website (link in French). They may be protected by specific intellectual property rights which may be cumulated:

  1. Patents (for inventions): a technical solution to a technical problem. Let’s take the example of a vacuum. The patent protects its technical functioning. Once the patent is granted, it will be valid for up to 20 years by paying annual fees.
  2. Product appearances fall under the designs What does it include? Both two-dimensional and three-dimensional designs. If we once again take the example of a vacuum, it applies to its appearance. Designs can be protected for five years and can be renewed four times. For further examples, head to the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) or to the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP).
  3. Copyright is for “literary and artistic works” (yes, that’s what they call it 😉) in the field of art as well as applied art to industry. For example, a vase, furniture… There is one requirement that needs to be respected: originality! It means that making “free and creative” choices, the creation will reflect the author’s personality. Copyright protects the authors throughout their lifetime and for 70 years following their death.
  4. Last but not least, there’s the trademark. A trademark is a distinctive sign that allows consumers to link a company’s product or service to its origin. It must be clearly and precisely represented. However, it shouldn’t be exclusively descriptive. For example, the name of a fruit can be used to sell phones, but can’t be registered for the specific fruit! A trademark can come in many forms linked to a product or service. For instance, name; logo (called a “figurative mark” in administrative jargon); colour and combination of colours (under certain conditions); sounds; motions, etc.

To find out more about protecting content, follow this link (link in French).

Who can help me?

If you want to find out how to protect “creations” – whether it be via a trademark, a patent, a design or copyright – start by reading this article which describes the steps, specificities and fees.

In Luxembourg, you are lucky to be able to get precise information from Luxembourg’s Institut de la Propriété Intellectuelle Luxembourg G.I.E. (IPIL) (link in French), and from Luxembourg’s Office de la propriété intellectuelle at the Ministry of the Economy (link in French), so make the most of it!

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