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Protect the Intellectual Property in a Business

By: Dave Howell - Updated: 12 Aug 2013 | comments*Discuss
Intellectual Property Ip Copyright

The tangible assets in your business like its computers, desks, chairs or stock can all be protected with security systems such as CCTV, but what about the intangible assets that could be your businesses most precious commodity?

Intellectual property can include:

  • Copyrighted material that you have created.
  • Trademarks that identify your business and differentiate it from others in its marketplace.
  • Inventions you can protect with a patent and designs that protect the outward appearance of a product that your business sells.
  • Unique design features of products your business produces.


You can only copyright the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. Copyright protects most creative arts, but it doesn't protect the function or design of the items themselves. For example, if your business produces a unique video game, the game itself can be copyrighted (this is the expression of the idea), but you can't copyright the processes you went through to create the game, as this would require a separate patent.

To protect any creative work all you need to do is ensure that the universally accepted copyright symbol (?) appears on every instance of your work. It's also a good idea to attach the date and name of the person who created the work. Copyright for an artistic work lasts for up to the life of the person that created the work plus 70 years. Note that you may have to apply for separate copyright protection for other parts of the world. For information about registering copyright material can be obtained from the UK Copyright Service.


You can apply for a patent on an invention or a process that you have developed to protect it from being copied by any other companies without your permission. It is important to remember that most patents are territorial. So if you are granted a patent in the UK, it will only be valid in the UK. Note that you can't apply for a patent if you have made your invention public. It's important that you keep the details of your invention secret until the patent has been granted.

The cost of a patent application is around £200. You can also pay for an initial search of the UK Intellectual Property Office's database to see if any similar inventions or processes have already been registered. This currently costs £100. You can get detailed information about how the patent system works and how you can apply for your own patent on the UK Intellectual Property Office's website: www.ipo.gov.uk/patent.htm. Note that you have to renew your patent each year for up to a maximum of 20 years. The patent application procedure can take nearly 5 years to complete before a patent is either granted or rejected.


The use of a trademark by a business can be an important component of their branding and marketing activities. A trademark can consist of a logo, image, picture or text. Any combination of these elements can be used to create a trademark. Registering your trademark gives you the sole right to use that trademark on the classes of products you have registered it against. To register a trademark it must be original and unique from any other trademark that is currently in use.

However, you can't register a trademark if:

  • The trademark is in any way deceptive or deemed immoral.
  • Descriptive of a characteristic of the services or goods your business sells.
  • Is similar to internationally protected symbols or names. You can read more about these types of symbols and trademarks on the World Intellectual Property Organisation website.

It currently costs £200 to register a trademark including the class of services or goods it relates to. If you want to register your trademark against another class of good or service, this will cost an additional £50. Before you begin your application it's a good idea to read the booklet Trademarks: Essential Reading that you can download from the UK Intellectual Property Office's website.

If you are not sure if your business's trademark is legal, you can ask for help and advice from the UK Intellectual Property Office.


If your business has created a product that has a unique appearance, this can be protected. You have a number of options when you want to protect a design's intellectual property. For information is available on the UK Intellectual Property Office's website.

A handy guide (My IP) to the different types of intellectual property and how they can be protected is available to download from the UK Intellectual Property Office's website

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