Intellectual property: the basics

Different types of intellectual property


Intellectual property (IP) exists in many forms. From the name of your business to an innovative new process or product, IP can help you stand out from your competitors, enhance your market value and turn ideas into profit-making assets.

Examples of intellectual property

Your business may already have a range of IP. IP can be any of the following:

  • brands and logos
  • product names
  • inventions and products
  • original software
  • designs
  • shape and appearance of a product
  • music
  • books
  • poems
  • paintings
  • photography
  • other kinds of creative work

IP can be very valuable. There are businesses, such as computer games companies, that exist simply to develop intellectual property or even take advantage of it. The type of IP protection you can get depends on what you have created.

Types of intellectual property rights

There are four main types of IP rights:

  • patents
  • trade marks
  • copyright
  • designs

It is important to understand the how these types of IP can apply - their differences, similarities and advantages to your business. You can carry out an intellectual property audit to determine what IP assets you have and how valuable they are to your business.

See how to protect intellectual property or read about the different types of legal protection for intellectual property rights.

You can also browse our detailed guides on patents, trade marks, copyright and design.

Some areas of IP rights and legislation have been affected by EU Exit. For current information on these, see: EU exit and innovation and R&D.

Find out what IP you own

The Intellectual Property Office's IP for Business toolkit can help you manage your intellectual property. It comprises:

  • a free e-learning tool with four short modules on main types of IP rights
  • a free smartphone app with access to IP information on the go
  • a free online health-check tool offering a confidential report tailored to your business
  • IP masterclass for business professionals

You can also watch the IPO's video below to gain a greater understanding of IP basics.

  • IPO Information Centre
    0300 300 2000
  • Invest NI Helpline
    0800 181 4422