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Intellectual Property (IP)

Mon, 28 October 2002

The term Intellectual Property (IP) refers to the ownership of (new) ideas, and the rights of the people who had those ideas to exploit them commercially or artistically.
The term Intellectual Property (IP) refers to the ownership of (new) ideas, and the rights of the people who had those ideas to exploit them commercially or artistically. These rights rarely apply to the ideas themselves, but to the material or artistic forms that they take. In other words, in most cases, the idea has to take some kind of ‘physical’ form before it is protected. Examples of intellectual property include: inventions, musical recordings, computer programs and books.
Every day, businesses use intellectual property - either their own or someone else’s. An understanding of IP rights will help you to protect your own rights and avoid infringing other peoples.
There are four main types of intellectual property:


Copyright protection is automatically given to the creators of certain materials. These include:
  • original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works;
  • films and sound recordings;
  • computer programs; and
  • material on the Internet
The copyright holder has control over the ways in which their material is exploited. This covers:
  • copying
  • adapting
  • issuing
  • renting
  • lending
  • performing in public
  • broadcasting
Copyright protection in the UK usually lasts until 70 years after the death of the author of the work. For sound recordings and broadcasts, the protection lasts 50 years, whereas published editions are protected for 25 years.


A patent for an invention gives the inventor the legal right, for a limited period, to prevent anyone else from making, using or selling the invention without the inventor’s permission.
Patents generally apply to new and improved products and processes that have new functional or technical aspects. To qualify for a patent, not only must the invention be new and involve an inventive step, but it must be capable of industrial application, and it must not have been made public in any way before the patent application was filed.
Patents are territorial, meaning that you have to apply for one in each country where you wish to have your invention protected. In the UK, patents can last for up to 20 years, providing that annual renewal fees are paid.
If you wish to apply for a patent, it is advisable to contact a patent agent at an early stage. Do this before publicly disclosing your invention. You can find a local patent agent in the Yellow Pages, or through The Chartered Institute of Patent Agents.


Trademarks are used for brand identity, to distinguish the goods and services of a particular company from those of any other. They are generally distinctive symbols, pictures, or words, but they can also be, for instance, unique colour combinations or product styles.
Basically, a trademark can be any sign which can be represented graphically. This sign must be distinctive, and it must not be deceptive or conflict with other registered trademarks for the same class of goods or services.
To register a trademark you have to apply to the UK Patent Office. Applications are usually handled by either a patent agent or trademark agent.
Trademarks can be maintained indefinitely provided that the appropriate renewal fees are paid.


  • Design right: Design right offers automatic protection in the UK to certain original 3D designs. Eligible designs are protected from unauthorised copying for up to 15 years from their creation.
  • Registered Designs: ‘Registered design’ relates to the outward appearance of an article or a set of articles of manufacture. Registered designs are offered greater protection than that given by design right, and this protection can last for a period of up to 25 years.
A design is registerable if it:
  • Has significant eye appeal
  • Is new
  • Is not on the exclusion list
You apply for a registered design through the UK Patent Office. The design must not have been made public before an application for registration has been filed, so contact a patent agent before disclosing your design.

Moral Rights

Moral rights are essentially a collection of rights that are personal in nature (i.e. cannot be transferred or sold as property). They are generally attached to works protected by copyright, and give the author of such work the separate right, in certain circumstances, to be identified as the author of the work, to object to derogatory treatment of the work and to restrain false attribution of authorship of the work. Moral rights are also given to performers (e.g. actors, musicians and so on) in certain circumstances. Many contracts concerning the licence or exploitation of copyright protected material will include a waiver of more rights as standard.
Source: James Pond, The Marketer, March 2007