Intellectual property rights explained

If you have created a new device or way of operating then you are entitled to file a claim to protect your innovation. 

Ownership of an idea can be as important as ownership of a physical possession – particularly in financial terms – and so protecting intellectual property is a crucial step for any individual or business looking to use that idea or creation.

Intellectual property law is designed to ensure that others cannot copy or replicate your invention without facing heavy penalties. No matter what form your creation takes, you can rest assured that there is a form of IP protection to cover it, providing you can demonstrate that it meets certain criteria.

Patents, trademarks and copyrights are the most commonly occurring forms of intellectual property protection, affording peace of mind and recognition for what is broadly given the term of a “work”. Protection can be sought for almost any invention, whether it is an artistic piece (like a song, artwork, literature or game design), or a work of engineering or design.

There are several different forms of IP protection available and it is important to understand how and when to exercise each type of ownership. Let’s take a closer look.


Patents enforce the right of an inventor to be recognised for their work under the proviso that they state clearly how an invention works. By placing these details into an official document, the technology or innovation is laid bare, but the patent owner has the exclusive right to use or licence the work for a given period of time.

Patents must be filed with The Intellectual Property Office (IPO). It is worth noting, however, that the IPO has the ability to object to or deny, any patent if they believe there to be similarities between your product and another registered work.

In this instance, they will inform you of the issue and you will be free to make alterations to your patent application before resubmitting.

Copyright and trademarks

Copyright and trademarks are somewhat different to a patent. Copyright grants an exclusive right to the creator for a limited time without the need to make the workings available to the public.

After this time expires, the work in question becomes available for mass use in the public domain. Common examples of copyrighted material are songs and books, which cannot be replicated.

It is, however, possible for the owner of a copyrighted work to give prior permission for some or all of their work to be reproduced. This may include a cover version of a song or the quoting of a passage from a story.

It is up to the copyright owner if they seek financial remuneration for this reproduction. In this respect, copyrighted works are not dissimilar from the licensing of a patented work.

Trademarks, meanwhile, refer to use of words, and most often apply to any logo, sign or phrase that can reasonably be shown to have a direct tie to your business. Put more simply, if people associate a phrase or logo with your company, and your company alone, then it can subject to a trademark.

Other intellectual property

The other common form of IP protection is known as a design right. Falling into two categories, registered and unregistered, design rights can be implemented to protect three-dimensional designs and updates of existing designs. Design rights are a fairly recent addition to UK intellectual property laws and are only active for 15 years before they expire.

Each of these intellectual property protection methods apply to the country in which they are registered, and there is no automatic protective coverage worldwide. That being said, however, the Berne Convention protects creative works internationally for up to 50 years after the creator's death, whilst The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) of 1970 provides blanket protection for patents filed from any state.

If you are wishing to proceed with registering a patent, copyright, trademark or design right then it may be helpful to consult a legal service provider with relevant experience. The complexities of an intellectual property matter can vary a great deal from case to case, and the nuances of a particular matter may only become clear once you have consulted with a legal expert.

Legal service providers not only offer advice and guidance; they may also file submissions to the patents office on your behalf and provide you with legal support in the event that your IP is violated.

If you need help or guidance in registering intellectual property or defending against infringement, then find a legal expert with The Law Superstore now


Steve Clark

Steve creates helpful guides for The Law Superstore. He enjoys digging deep into new areas of the law, supporting partners, and translating legalese and jargon into plain English everyone can understand.