Protecting intellectual property

Types of legal protection for intellectual property rights

Guide

The type of intellectual property (IP) protection you can get depends on what you have created. Some types of protection arise automatically and others you have to apply for.

It's a good idea to assess what IP you have that needs protecting. This is called an intellectual property audit. An audit should help you determine the value of your IP assets and identify the best ways you should protect them.

Automatic protection

Several types of IP are automatically safeguarded by law from the moment of their creation.

Type of protection Examples of IP How long does it last Find out more
Copyright Original writing and literary works, art, photography, films, TV, music, web content, sound recordings and software The length of protection varies according to the type of copyright work, when and where it was created Copyright for your business
Design right Configuration and shape of 3-dimensional objects Lasts for 10 or 15 years, depending on when the product is first sold or created (whichever comes earliest) Design right
Supplementary unregistered design right (or 'continuing unregistered community design' if you made your design public in the UK or the EU before 1 January 2021) Appearance of a product, including shape, colours, texture, materials or ornamentation. It can be 2-dimensional or 3-dimensional Protected in the UK for three years from the date you make your design public Unregistered designs

Protection you have to apply for

Depending on the types of IP, you might need to register them to ensure sufficient protection.

Type of protection Examples of IP How long does it last Find out more
Trade marks Distinctive product or brand names, logos, slogans, symbols, sounds, colours, etc Initially for ten years, after which it can be renewed indefinitely Trade marks
Registered designs Appearance of the whole or part of a product, including shape, lines, patterns, colours, texture and ornamentation Registration lasts for five years initially, but can be renewed for a maximum of 25 years Registered designs
Patents Inventions, novel products, or innovative processes (eg way of manufacturing) Granted patent can remain in force for up to 20 years, if renewed regularly Get patent protection for your business

Keep in mind also that multiple protections can relate to one product. For example, you might register a product's name and logo as a trademark, protect its unique shape as a registered design, patent a unique part of the product, and copyright artwork relating to it.

In addition to the rights outlined in the tables above, there are also other ways of protecting your original ideas, eg using confidentiality agreements, copy protection devices, publication rights and trade secrets. For more on those, see trade secrets and other IP protection.