Intellectual property (IP) is the general term for the "property" generated or associated with some form of human mental or intellectual activity. It includes inventions, designs, literary and artistic works, technical drawings, specialist know-how, business good-will etc. IP is usually encountered in the legal arrangements provided to protect it - IP rights - such as patents for inventions, trademarks for products and services, copyright for original literary and artistic works, registered designs for the shape or appearance of product etc.
Patents provide legally enforceable rights granted by individual countries for a new invention. They give the owner the right to stop other people from making or using the invention for a limited period - typically 20 years from the date of applying for a patent. It is most important not to disclose any details of an invention except in confidence before a patent application is filed or else the newness (novelty) of the invention will be destroyed and it will then be unpatentable. In the UK and Europe, patents can only be obtained for inventions which may have some industrial application although industry is widely interpreted; as a result, artistic works, mathematical models, plans, schemes and the like cannot themselves be patented. In order to obtain a patent, a detailed description of the invention and how it can be made and operated must be supplied. This description is published normally 18 months after the patent application is filed.
•more patent information
•some patent truisms
Trademarks are distinctive signs or symbols - including names, logos, shapes, colours, odours and sounds - applied to the owner's products or services which distinguish them from products or services provided by competitors. They do not need to be officially registered but registration makes it easier to prevent competitors from copying or damaging your trademarks. The main requirements for registration are that the trademark is distinctive for the products or services involved and that the trademark is not the same or similar to an earlier trademark for the relevant products or services. In the UK a trademark registration can continue in force indefinitely if renewal fees are paid every 10 years.
*Note: in the UK they continue to be referred to as two separate words "Trade Marks" signifiying their origin but in the USA and most other countries they are referred to as the single work "Trademarks".
•more trademark information
Designs protect the external appearance and impact on the eye of articles against copying. They do not give any protection for technical aspects such as how the article is made or used. They include new patterns, ornaments and shapes applied to objects which can be produced commercially. To be officially registered, designs need to be original and distinctive and protection from copying the design can then last for up to 25 years. Artistic aspects of designs may also be protected by copyright. In the UK original designs are also protected automatically by a design right lasting up to 15 years.
•more design information
Copyright protects the original expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. It exists automatically in original creative or artistic works and gives the owner the right to stop unauthorised copying. Copyright continues for 70 years after the death of the artist or designer. Where articles made by an industrial process (that is more 50 articles) are concerned, copyright continues for 25 years after the first marketing of such articles.
•more copyright information
other IP rights
These include supplementary protection certificates, utility models, trade secrets, performer’s rights, database rights, plant variety rights and rights to geographical indications and to the layout of computer chips etc. Not all of these IP rights are available in all countries.
•more information on other IP rights
enforcing IP rights
General sources of information about enforcing IP rights in the UK, Europe, the USA and China are provided on this page of the IPAN website. This is not always strightforward and obtaining professional advice is recommended before any contact is made with suspected infringers of your IP rights.
get professional advice
The information about IP rights in this website is given in good faith in generalised form for guidance purposes and must not be relied upon as legal advice. You are advised to seek appropriate professional assistance whenever you need specific advice on IP matters and especially in commercial situations.
•specialist UK based professional advisers in IP matters