What are intellectual property rights?

By protecting your intellectual property, it is easier to accelerate legal proceedings in the event you find someone attempting to steal or imitate your IP; known as an infringement.

The type of protection you can get depends on what exactly you’ve created. However, you may not be aware that you get some types of intellectual property rights automatically, while others you have to apply for.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO UK) lists your automatic intellectual property rights as follows:

Automatic rights to intellectual property

Copyright

This type of protection covers everything from writing and literary works, art and photography, through to films, television, music, web content and sound recordings.

You don’t have to apply or pay a fee to get copyright for your work, which stops others from using it without your permission unless it’s considered fair dealing.

The IPO states you can mark any copyrighted work with the recognised symbol (©), your name and the year of the work’s creation.

Note: Whether or not you choose to use these copyright markings you will still receive the full level of copyright protection as an automatic right.

Did you know that your work could also be protected by copyright in other countries too? There are various international agreements in existence such as the Berne Convention, established in 1886, which protects the works and rights of authors.

Unregistered UK design right

Unregistered design right is UK-only protection, which automatically protects your own designs for 10 years from the moment it was sold, or 15 years from the moment it was created – whichever occurs earliest.

In the European Union (EU), an unregistered community design lasts for a period of three years from the date on which the design was first made available to the public within the European Community.

These rights exist to legally stop someone from copying your design. However, it is only applicable to the shape and configuration of objects – or, more simply, how different aspects of a design are arranged together.

In order to claim your design right you will need to have documented proof of when your design(s) were created. The IPO states that this can be in the form of design drawings or photos which can be left with a bank or solicitor, or sent to yourself by registered, dated post and left unopened.

The IPO is capable of assisting with select design right disputes; however, they also recommend you seek professional legal advice to take action in the event that someone is breaching your design right.

If you are happy to allow someone else to use your design, you can sell or give them ‘licence of right’. Rule 14 of the Design Right (Proceedings before Comptroller) Rules 1989 is the main rule which governs the completion and filing of any licence of right forms. The permission form states that it must be filled together with a statement in duplicate, setting out the particular of the grounds for variation and the terms required to be varied.

Note: The IPO states that in the final five years of any design right protection you must provide a licence of right to anybody who asks.


Intellectual property protection is essential to avoid having your potentially valuable ideas stolen and imitated without punishment. If you’re unsure of your intellectual property rights, don’t hesitate to sign up for our ‘Introduction to Intellectual Property’ workshop, which covers the four cornerstones of IP. Our expert staff will also be on-hand to answer any questions that you may have throughout the session.

Intellectual property rights you have to apply for

Trade marks

A registered trade mark protects your brand, e.g. the name of your product(s) or service(s).

The IPO states that by securing a registered trade mark you’ll have rights to do the following:

  • Take legal action against anyone who uses your trade mark without your permission, including counterfeiters
  • Put the ® symbol next to your trade mark to demonstrate the trade mark is yours, warning others against using it
  • Sell and license your trade mark to third parties

Note: The UK trade mark registration process takes up to four months, providing no-one objects. Any registered trade mark lasts ten years, safeguarding your trade mark in the UK. There are different processes for registering EU and international trade marks which the IPO outlines here.

Registered designs

It is possible to register the look of any product(s) you have designed in order to thwart others from stealing or imitating it; whilst making legal action against potential infringements more straightforward.

The IPO states that the look of a design covers the following:

  • Appearance
  • Physical shape
  • Configuration (or how multiple parts of a design are arranged together)
  • Decoration

By registering your design, you can prevent others from using it for up to 25 years, although the IPO confirms you must renew your design registration every five years up to the maximum of 25 years.

Note: The UK registered design process takes up to one month, providing it meets the criteria as set out by the IPO:

  • It must be new
  • It cannot be offence (e.g. featuring graphic words or imagery)
  • It must not make use of protected emblems or flags (such as the Royal Crown or Olympic rings)
  • It must not be an invention or how a product works (this would require a patent instead)

Patents

UK patents are designed to protect your invention; giving you the legal right to take legal action against anyone who makes, uses, sells or imports it without prior permission.

The IPO outlines the following framework for successful patent applications:

  • It must be something that can be made or used in some kind of industry
  • It must be new
  • It must be innovative; not a simple modification of something that already exists

Note: It can take up to five years for a patent application to be accepted. The IPO states that once a patent has been granted you can then commercially benefit by licensing, selling or mortgaging your patent to third parties.

Still confused about how to protect your valuable intellectual property? Our ‘Introduction to Intellectual Property’ workshop uncovers the four cornerstones of IP, with our experts on hand to help you understand which may best suit you and your business. Throughout the session you’ll be able to ask questions of our expert staff too.

See also

Protecting your ideas

Plan to grow your business

Plan to start your business