What is Intellectual Property?

For any successful business, innovation is a key part of driving and maintaining success.

Preceding any innovation comes that lightbulb moment, an idea is formed and put into motion.

The second you put your idea down on paper or in some other concrete physical form, you have a piece of Intellectual Property that needs protecting.

There is a common misconception amongst start-ups and smaller businesses that IP applies only to the finished product, however, it in fact incorporates any original ideas involved in the development of the product or service. This also includes any tweaks or additions made to any existing processes.

For example, Dyson’s patented IP is not the vacuum cleaner, but rather the dual cyclone technology inside.

What is the value of Intellectual Property to a business?

IP is arguably the single most important asset to a company. Take an iPhone for example, if Apple’s prototype for their newest device was destroyed, they could simply reproduce one from the knowledge and IP retained by the company. However, if Apple was to lose their IP, then it would be unable to replicate the product and fail to bring a product to market.

IP can also provide value to a company in the following ways;

  • It can form an essential part of your business’s brand and marketing strategy
  • It differentiates your business from your competitors
  • It can be sold or licensed to other companies, providing an extra source of revenue for the business
  • Depending on the type of intellectual property, it may be possible to use this as collateral against a loan

Intellectual Property Protection

If you run a business which is heavily reliant on its IP, we recommend including a Non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in your employee contracts to prevent any employee from revealing IP information to any competitors during and after their employment.

In terms of protecting your IP from ‘copycats’, There are two different types of IP protection, those you are granted automatically (assuming your IP qualifies and you can provide proof the original idea was yours) and those you need to apply for.

Automatic Protection

  • Copyright – This protects any original writing or literary works, art, photography, films, Television, music, sound recordings. Copyright covers all mediums in which a work can be displayed, including the Internet.
  • Design Right – Design Right protects the shape and configuration of any 3-dimensional unregistered product, both the interior and exterior and will provide protection for a maximum of 15 years from the end of the calendar year in which the design was first recorded in a design document.

Applied Protection

  • Patent – Patents cover any new products or inventions e.g. pharmaceuticals, technology, machines, machine parts etc…
  • Trademark – Trademarks will cover your business name as well as any words, slogans, designs, symbols or any other unique device that identifies a product or organisation.
  • Registered Design – A registered design covers the aesthetical look of a product including shape, packaging, colours, design and decoration.

Intellectual Property Infringement

In broad terms, IP infringement is any breach of intellectual property rights.

IP infringement is very common, particularly amongst SMEs who may not have the knowledge or the resources to protect all of their IP.

A survey undertaken by The Federation of Small Businesses showed that a quarter of small business owners claimed to have been the victim of an IP violation in the past 5 years, and of that quarter, half claimed their product had been directly copied by a rival.

IP rights are infringed when a work protected by IP laws is used, copied, distributed or otherwise exploited for financial gain without having permission from a person who owns those IPs.

If you feel your IP has been violated, it’s important to remember that it is your responsibility to take action against the offending party. No law enforcement or government body will do so on your behalf, if you want to take legal action, you will have to set this in motion.

If you feel your Intellectual Property has been infringed and you wish to take legal action, contact Guy Lightowler on 0161 930 5101.


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