What are Intellectual Property Rights and why do they matter?

Intellectual Property (known as IP) is what you create using your mind. This can include your brand, product names, original work and more.

IP rights can protect all of these things and prevent them from being exploited by other people without your permission, which can damage your business or original work. IP rights can be valuable and either sold or used to secure lending or investment.

IP rights are generally owned by their creator or buyer. Some types arise automatically, whilst others require you to make an application.

What types of Intellectual Property Rights are there?    

There are five main types in the UK. Some IP rights are territorial meaning that they will only have effect and provide protection in the UK and not in other countries. It is possible, however, to make applications for European or international protection.

Trade marks

Trade marks are signs or symbols that distinguish your products or services from those of other businesses. This could be your business’ brand name, logo or the shape of a design such as a Coca Cola bottle. To qualify as a trade mark, a sign or symbol must be distinctive and capable of being represented graphically, i.e. shown as an image. Owning a trade mark gives you the exclusive right to use it. Trade marks are valid for an initial period of 10 years, after which they can be renewed every 10 years.

For maximum protection, a trade mark should be registered. A trade mark can also be unregistered, albeit that this gives you less certainty and your rights are harder to enforce. If you have built up goodwill in an unregistered trade mark and someone else uses it in a way that causes you loss, your remedy is a claim called passing off.


Copyright protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, which can include software. It arises automatically in written or recorded original works and generally lasts for the lifetime of the work’s author plus 70 years. Some categories of original work, however, receive shorter periods of protection. Since copyright arises automatically there is no registration process. Owning copyright prevents anyone else from using your work without your permission, including making copies of it or publishing it on the internet.

Design rights

Design rights protect the whole or part of a design comprising its appearance, shape, configuration and decoration. These include graphic designs, patterns, computer icons, packaging and digital media products. Your design must be new, individual and not be dictated by the product’s technical function. It must create a different impression to any earlier existing design. Design rights can be either registered or unregistered. Unregistered design rights arise automatically and can last for up to 15 years. You must apply for registered design rights which can last for up to 25 years and give better protection than unregistered design rights.


Patents protect inventions. They are essential for products which have been created through significant research and development in order to protect your investment and prevent their unauthorised use. To qualify for patent protection, your invention must be new, inventive (not just modify something that already exists) and capable of industrial application. Patents do not protect methods of doing business, the way information is presented and certain computer programmes and apps. They are renewable for up to 20 years.

Confidential information aka trade secrets

The law of confidence is a type of claim that enables you to protect your confidential information such as client lists. You may start a claim provided that this information was communicated to a person in circumstances in which it was clear that the information was confidential and you have incurred loss.

Back to all guides


Get in Touch

We are here to help you move forward and do the hard work for you. Please get in touch with us today.