What is intellectual property?

Copyright, patents, designs and trade marks are all types of intellectual property protection. Intellectual property is something that you create using your mind – for example, a story, an invention, an artistic work or a symbol. You get some types of protection automatically, others you have to apply for.

Having the right type of intellectual property protection helps you to stop people stealing or copying:

  • the names of your products or brands
  • your inventions
  • the design or look of your products
  • things you write, make or produce.

There are different types of protection depending on what you’ve created:

Type of protection Intellectual property it covers Time to allow for application
Registering a trade mark Product names, logos, jingles 4 months
Registering a design Appearance of a product, including its shape, packaging, patterns, decoration 3 weeks
Copyrighting your work Writing and literary works, art, photography, films, TV, music, web content No application needed
Patenting an invention Inventions and products, for example machines, medicines Around 5 years

Owning intellectual property

You own intellectual property if you:

  • created it (and it meets the requirements for copyright, a patent or a design)
  • bought intellectual property rights from the creator or a previous owner
  • have a brand that could be a trade mark, for example, a well-known product name.

Intellectual property can:

  • have more than one owner
  • belong to people or businesses
  • be sold or transferred

Intellectual property rights allow you to make money from the intellectual property you own.

You get limited automatic protection over some intellectual property, for example design right. However, it’s easier to prove you own intellectual property legally if it is registered.

You can usually get permission to use someone else’s intellectual property (IP) by buying the rights from them or getting their permission to use it. Using someone’s trade mark, patent, copyright or design without their permission is known as ‘IP infringement’ and could lead to a fine, prison or both. To use a registered design you must contact the current owner and either agree a licence to use the design or buy it from them.

The licence between you and the design’s owner will tell you:

  • what you can do with the design
  • how long your licence will last
  • what you have to pay – if anything.

You can do anything with a design that you’ve bought.

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