Protecting your intellectual property abroad

Do I need international IP protection?

Guide

Intellectual property (IP) rights are territorial. IP rights are only valid in the country or region in which they have been granted. Your UK protection does not automatically extend to other countries. You should consider getting IP protection if you sell online to foreign customers or want to trade overseas.

Importance of protecting IP when exporting

IP protection can provide you:

  • exclusive rights to prevent others from exploiting your creativity
  • greater bargaining power to negotiate partnerships in desired markets
  • an asset to sell or monetize through licensing, franchising and merchandising

It's crucial to think about the future when protecting your IP. If someone sees you are marketing a good idea in one country, they could copy you and start marketing it elsewhere. Unless you have the appropriate protection, you'll have no way of stopping them - and any plans you might have to expand your business internationally may be undermined.

Read more about the importance of protecting intellectual property.

IP considerations for exporters

There is no simple way to secure worldwide protection of your IP. To obtain rights in foreign markets, you will generally need to:

  • file for protection in each desired market, or
  • rely on international IP agreements to file for protection in several countries through one application

Different IP laws may apply to different jurisdictions around the world. Legal requirements for obtaining rights may also vary. Your patent, trade mark or design may not qualify for protection in all your markets of interest.

Similarly, the fees for obtaining and maintaining IP rights vary from country to country. Protecting and enforcing your IP across many jurisdictions may be costly. Be clear and strategic about which markets you want to target to keep the costs down.

Depending on the type of your IP, your budget and countries of interest, you will need to decide which option is best for your business. Read more about overseas protection of trade marks, designs, patents and copyright.

Research prior IP rights in the market

As well as looking at your own IP, you also need to be aware of existing IP rights in target export markets. Research the existence of these rights early on - preferably when planning for export - so that you don't unknowingly infringe someone's IP, or spend time and money on developing packaging, marketing etc for products you won't be able to sell.

Exporting licensed IP internationally

If you have a licence to use somebody else's IP, such as a patent or copyright, it should be clear to which countries your licence applies. Sometimes it might give you UK rights only and further rights will need to be negotiated.

Find out more about licensing intellectual property.

Get help with IP protection abroad

International IP protection is complex and you should seek specialist advice. A patent attorney, trade mark attorney or specialist solicitor will have the legal skills to deal with your IP issues. You can:

Read more about protecting intellectual property.

Some areas of IP rights and legislation have been affected by EU Exit from 1 January 2021. For current information on these, see: EU exit and innovation and R&D.