| 05 August 2019

The basics of Intellectual Property


Written by Luke Faulkner

Support for Businesses - Intellectual Property

Intellectual property or ‘IP’ as it is often referred to, is an important topic and sometimes overlooked by businesses that are just starting up. It could be a costly mistake for your business to overlook the types of intellectual property you have within your business and whether or not any of your ideas, designs, copyright infringes another business or individual.


This guide will give you a quick overview of the basics you need to know and identify the different types of Intellectual property you might have within your business.


All videos below are courtesy of the Intellectual Property Office. If you want to learn more we usually have a number of events listed relating to IP available either online or in workshops.

The design aspect takes into consideration the appearance, physical shape, arrangements of parts (known as the configuration) and decoration.


By registering a design, you are looking to protect the design, which will in turn deter and stop people from stealing it or copying it for their own gain.


  • Registered design

This protects the look, image and appearance of the product, as long as it is unique and new. Things to consider in the design that will make it unique will be the appearance, physical shape, configuration and decoration, if it doesn’t have these then it will not be considered.


To be considered during the process, you will need to have an image or design of what your product will look like, as it can only protect what can be seen and not an idea or concept. The product you bring to market, will need to match what you have submitted as your registered design, otherwise it will not be protected.


You can decide to go through the process yourself or you could use a intellectual property law firm to help you through the process, the latter route costing more but may give you peace of mind to know that your designs are protected.


All videos in this guide are courtesy of the Intellectual Property Office.

A mistake to make is to assume that your invention is brand new. Just because you haven’t seen it in the shops or on sale somewhere doesn’t mean it hasn’t been thought of already or isn’t protected by a patent.


A patent essentially protects your invention, so if anyone makes or uses your invention without your permission you can take legal action.

You will need to apply to the Intellectual Property Office to apply for a UK patent or you can use an intellectual property law firm. The process can be complicated and costly, so much so that the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) advises you to seek legal advice. The IPO states that only 1 in 20 applicants receive a patent without professional support and that your chances of success are much higher with an IP professional. The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys has a comprehensive list of Patent Attorneys, some of which will give you a free consultation. We always recommend that you do some research before going to see a specialist, so that you can maximise the free consultation that you receive.


As mentioned already patents will only be applicable if you have created something new and that has a use.


A lot of applications can fail due to the patent not satisfying legal requirements. Once you have been granted a patent, it can last up to 20 years as long as renewal fees are paid.



If you reveal your invention before applying for a patent, you may not be granted a patent as the invention was in the public domain before the patent was granted.

Copyright can apply to anything that is in written or recorded form, such as written works, art, photographs, software, media and databases. Copyright allows owners to control the use of their works and is free and automatically takes place in the UK once it has been recorded, which means you do not need to register or pay a fee for Copyright to take effect.


Copyright typically lasts up to 70 years after the authors death, but can vary in certain types of work. A comprehensive list can be found on the Intellectual Property Offices website.


Because Copyright is an automatic right it is often overlooked by many businesses and individuals. If you have third parties creating content for you, you should check the terms and conditions to ensure that the copyright belongs to you and you are not limited in how you can use it. An example of this would be if you commissioned a video production company to film one of your events. At the time of signing an agreement you would want to check that you will own the copyright or it will be passed to you. This means once the final edits of the video are completed you can receive these and the full footage and use them how you please.


Don’t be afraid to ask businesses or individuals that are creating content for you, who will own the copyright. You don’t want to be caught out.

Trade marks

A trade mark can be any sign that identifies you as the owner of your goods or services to make it clear they belong to you.


It will allow your customers to identify you in the market and will protect your brand.


Your trade mark can be one of your most valuable assets once protected.


A number of things can be registered as a trade mark -  names and logos are the most common.


Think about Intel and you will hear a certain jingle, Shell will have the image of a yellow shell with a red outline and Coca-Cola for its contour bottle. What can be trade marked can vary, including sounds, colours, and shapes.


The more unusual a trade mark the harder it is to go through the process and get a trade mark.

All of the following can be registered:

  • Word
  • Logo
  • Shape
  • Position
  • Pattern
  • Colour (single or combination)
  • Sound
  • Motion
  • Multimedia

A trade mark needs to be unique, so it can’t be confused for an already registered trade mark.


There is a common misconception that by registering your company name or owning a domain name you have protection. This is not true and gives you virtually no legal rights to stop someone else from using your name or logo.


If you start using a logo or name without registering it as a trade mark and without checking that it is free to use, you risk later finding out about a company with a similar name, or even receiving a letter telling you to stop using your mark because it infringes an already registered trade mark.


Having protection from the beginning, means as you become more established and people look to copy you, you have the means to take action and be able to stop them.


Trade marks need to be renewed every 10 years but can last forever.