What is Intellectual Property and how do I protect it?

Intellectual Property (IP) is a term used to describe a range of legal rights that attach to certain types of ideas and information and to their form of expression.  It is crucial that businesses are aware of different IP rights to ensure that they: protect what they create; maximise their competitive position; and avoid infringing the IP rights of other businesses.


Types of IP


Copyright protects original artistic, musical, dramatic and literary works, including computer programs, sound recordings, films and broadcasts.  Copyright protects the expression of an idea (rather than the idea itself).  It protects against actual copying of another’s work.  It does not protect against independent development of the same idea.  Copyright arises automatically on the creation of the work.  It generally lasts for 70 years following the death of the author.


Trade Marks

A trade mark is a sign or symbol used by a business to distinguish its products or services from those of another.  It can be a brand name, company logo or trading style.  To be registrable, a trade mark must be capable of: being represented graphically; distinguishing goods or services; distinctive and not excluded by statute.  Trade mark owners can apply for a UK or an EU trade mark.  Both registrations initially last for ten years and are renewable.


Passing Off

The goodwill in a business’ name or brand can also be protected by an action for passing off.  It is based on the principle that goods and services are not to be sold under the pretence that they are the goods and services of another.   It requires: a goodwill or reputation attached to the relevant goods or services; a misrepresentation that could mislead the public; and evidence of damage.  An action for passing off can be both difficult and expensive which is often why businesses choose to register a trademark.



Patents provide inventors with a legal monopoly over inventions by protecting new and inventive technical features, products and processes.  To qualify for protection, an invention must be: new; involve an inventive step; be capable of industrial protection; and not specifically excluded from protection.  In most countries, patents last for 20 years.


Design Rights

Design rights protect the appearance of the whole or part of a product.  They can be registered or unregistered:


  • Registered designs – must be: novel; of individual character; and not excluded by statute. Design owners can apply for a UK or an EU registered design.  Protection lasts for 25 years with registrations renewed every five years.


  • Unregistered designs – protection arises automatically on creation of the design and provides protection against copying of the design.


Confidential Information

It is possible to protect sensitive information through rights in confidential information e.g. know-how and trade secrets.  To be enforceable, the information must be: confidential in nature; disclosed in circumstances in which an obligation of confidence arises (e.g. relationship of employer and employee); and its unauthorised use must be detrimental.  Whilst not strictly an IP right, confidential information protects commercial and technical information and does not need to be registered.


Get in touch

If you would like further information about protecting your IP, or believe that your IP is being infringed by another business, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0161 926 9969 or by email hello@mlplaw.co.uk