How to protect your intellectual property

Your business has intellectual property (IP), and it's one of your most valuable assets. It sets you apart from your competitors. In many cases it is your key to commercial success. Protecting it from sneaky business copy-cats is one of the most important things you can do. Use this guide to find out how and why you to protect your IP.

What is intellectual property?

  • Property, in legal terms, means anything you can own. Intellectual property (IP) is property that's a result of mental effort and original creative thinking.
  • Inventions, artworks, designs, works of literature, logos, brands and creations are all examples of IP.
  • The most common types of IP are patents, trademarks, copyright and designs.
  • Different types of IP fall are split into two categories: industrial property and copyright.
  • Industrial property is for things like devices and inventions (which can be patented), trademarks, and industrial designs.
  • Copyright refers to artistic works, such as works of literature, photographs, musical works, drawings, paintings, sculpture, photography, and theatrical works.

Why do you need to protect your IP?

  • Protecting your IP is a safeguard against unscrupulous business-identity thieves.
  • You need it to protect your brand and design, original inventions and creations, new technological creations, business name, slogans, logo, and marketing and advertising copy.
  • You can take anyone who copies your protected IP without your permission to court. This is, however, expensive. You need to be able to prove your IP was infringed.
  • You can also license or sell your IP to other businesses for a few once it's protected.
  • You also need to make sure you're not infringing other business' IP, else you face legal action.

Protecting your IP

  • First you need to identify what IP you have to protect.
  • Use our guide on the different types of IP to identify what type of protection you need and whether you need to apply for it.
  • Some types are automatic and free (such as copyright), others you need to apply and pay for.
  • For the types of IP rights you have to pay for (such as patenting) you need to establish whether it's worth the money. Make sure your idea is commercially viable before committing time and money, and that it looks likely to generate more money than the protection costs.
  • Patenting can be a very long, difficult and expensive process (think thousands of pounds and upwards of six months, or often years). Consulting an IP solicitor wouldn't go astray, and you need to make sure you've got the time and money for the process.
  • Before trying to protect your own IP, or indeed before finalising any decision on using it, run patent searches and trademark searches to ensure you're not infringing any other business' - or you risk a crushing legal suit.

Jargon buster

Copyright: a category for IP that refers to artistic works.

Trademark: symbols that identify your business and its products, such as your logo, domain name and slogan.

Design right: protection for the 3D aspects of your design, excluding surface decoration (which is covered by registered design). Use this IP Office table for differences between design right and registered design.

Patent: IP rights covering the functionality of your product: how a specific part works. The mechanism must be new.

IP rights: the umbrella term for how IP is legally protected, including trademarks, copyright, design right and patents.

Industrial property: a category of IP that refers to things such as devices and inventions (which can be patented), trademarks, and industrial designs.

Infringe: copy or do the thing protected by intellectual property without permission. If someone starts manufacturing your patented device, they're infringing your IP.


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