Intellectual property: the basics

How to protect intellectual property


Most businesses create and own some type of intellectual property (IP). Depending on what you create, you can use patents, trade marks, design right and registration, or copyright to protect your intellectual property assets.

Different rules apply to different types of intellectual property.

Protection through patents

Patents protect inventions, including the features and processes that make things work. You have to apply for and register a patent to secure protection. See more on IP rights: patents.

Protection through copyright

Copyright protects published artistic work, including writing, film, music and computer software. Unlike most other forms of IP, copyright applies automatically when the work is first published. Read more about IP rights: copyright.

Protection through trade marks

Trade marks are signs that distinguish between goods and services (eg words, logos, brand names, pictures, shapes, sound etc). You don't have to register a trade mark to use it, but registration grants you exclusive rights for its use. Read more about IP rights: trade marks.

Protection through designs

A design refers to the features of shape, configuration, pattern or ornamentation that give a product its unique appearance. You can protect designs through automatic unregistered design rights or design registration. Find out more about IP rights: designs.

Other types of IP protection

Depending on the IP assets that you wish to protect, you may also want to look at:

Find more tips and advice on protecting intellectual property.

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