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Copyright architectural drawings: how architects can protect intellectual property


Theft. It’s a problem for businesses, big or small.

And no, it’s not your fine liners or your paper clips we’re talking about. It’s something much more valuable – your intellectual property.

For architects, intellectual property theft’s a big risk. Especially at pitch time.

Pitch perfect

Say you’ve spent hours thinking about how an existing building could work better. You come up with an amazing idea. You pitch it to the building’s owners.

And from the smiling faces around the boardroom table, it looks like you’re getting the green light. That project’s coming home. Or, so you think.

But weeks go by and the phone doesn’t ring.

Then you hear through grapevine, the building’s being redeveloped. Using your plans. Only you’re not the architect on the project. A competitor is.

It’s a double whammy. You didn’t get the job and your great idea’s been nicked.

To make it worse, when it’s finished, the redesigned building’s a concrete reminder of the value of your idea. Because it now works. Brilliantly.  And you didn’t get the credit. Or the fee.

So, how can architects protect their intellectual property (IP)?

What is intellectual property?

First, let’s be clear what counts as intellectual property. It’s something unique. That you, physically, create.

An idea alone is not IP. So, the idea for a book doesn’t count. The words you’ve written, do. For architects, your design idea’s not your intellectual property. Your plans, drawings – even simple sketches – are.

Here are some things you can do to stop it being stolen.

Record the evidence

Keep a log. Record the development of your ideas and the processes followed.

Date and sign your work and any copies of sketches, drafts and plans.

This doesn’t just help you prove ownership, it means you can defend yourself from IP theft claims made by other architects.  If your designs are similar.

Keep it confidential

Mark pitch documents confidential. Make it absolutely clear these cannot be passed on to any other parties. And that you own the IP.

Add a copyright notice to the docs, too. Copyright’s automatic in the UK. It’s given to all original, artistic creations which are the result of intellectual effort, skill, or creative talent.

If you have staff, or work with consultants, make sure their contracts state that you own any intellectual property they develop for you.

Terms of engagement

If you win the project, spell out what the client can do with your plans. For example,

  • If they can alter them.
  • If they can use them on multiple buildings, or just one.
  • When their right to use them ends.

The best way to avoid a future dispute is to agree terms with a client from the get-go. And put them in writing.

Take action

Pursue your intellectual property rights. If you’re known for taking action, it’ll make other IP thieves think twice.

The reverse is also true. If you have a reputation for not doing anything about it, you’re an easy target.

Take cover

Trouble is, pursuing intellectual property thieves takes time and money. A recent survey found many companies whose IP had been stolen couldn’t take legal action. They simply couldn’t afford it.

If you’ve got insurance, you can.

What’s more, it doesn’t just protect your cashflow by taking care of the legal costs, it sends a firm message. If clients know you have IP insurance, they know you can pursue them.

It also acts as a deterrent in a legal battle. If your opponent knows you’re insured, you're less likely to be forced to settle on unfavourable terms.

Protect your big ideas

As a small business owner, you protect your other assets with insurance. From buildings, to equipment, to your staff. Don’t forget to protect your firm’s most valuable asset – its intellectual property.

If you’d like to know more about IP insurance, give us a call on 0345 561 0320.

You can read up on copyright, patents, and trademarks here. And for more information on your IP rights, check out the Intellectual Property office's website.

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