Protecting your intellectual property abroad
Understand how to secure and enforce your intellectual property rights internationally, and register your patents, trade marks and designs overseas
Intellectual property (IP) rights are territorial. This means that UK-registered rights do not automatically give you protection in other countries.
If you protect your ideas and inventions in the UK alone, people in other territories may be able to use your IP without infringing your rights.
If you are thinking about trading abroad then you should consider registering your IP rights abroad. Some countries may allow you to extend your UK protection to their territory after completing certain local formalities.
This guide tells you how to protect your trade marks, patents, designs and copyright abroad.
It explains how extension of UK IP rights works and where you can find information on IP rights in different countries. It also highlights common IP problems when exporting.
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.
Do I need international IP protection?
Determine if you should register your IP rights abroad or extend your protection to cover IP infringements overseas
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:
- find a patent attorney
- find a trade mark attorney
- find a specialist IP solicitor in Northern Ireland
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.
Protecting trade marks abroad
How to register your trade marks in other countries and where to get help with registration
If you want to use your trade mark in countries other than the UK, you can apply to the trade mark office in each country.
European and international application systems also exist. Both cover many countries, including the UK, and offer other potential benefits including:
- less to pay
- less paperwork
- lower agents’ costs
- faster results
- easy application
To apply for an International Trade Mark you must already have a base application or registration in the UK. See how to register a trade mark in the UK.
Apply for international trade mark protection
You can apply to register your trade mark in countries which have signed-up to an international agreement called the 'The Madrid Protocol'.
The Madrid Protocol is controlled by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), which provides a list of member countries that an international application can cover.
An international application must be based on an existing trade mark application, or registration, in one of the member countries, including:
- An EU trade mark application or registration. In this case, you must make the international application for that mark through EU Intellectual Property Office.
- A UK trade mark application or registration. In this case, you must apply for an international application through the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO).
Filing through the UK IPO
You can file your international application at the same time as you make your UK application, or later if you wish. You can also use your UK trade mark application to claim priority when applying for an international trade mark provided this is within six months. This means that your later application will be treated as if you applied on the same date as in the UK.
The cost to apply depends on which or how many countries you want your trade mark to be protected in. There is a list of fees and fee calculator on the WIPO website. Payments must be made in Swiss francs to WIPO in Geneva.
For any international application you will also have to pay a UK handling fee of £40 for the IPO to process the application form. If you need any help with fees, you can call the UK IPO Helpline on Tel 0300 300 2000.
Use this form to file an international trade mark applications through the IPO.
You can only apply for a single mark, as the international system does not allow for a series of marks, as is the case in the UK.
From 1 January 2021, International Trade Mark registrations designating the EU are no longer valid in the UK. On this date, comparable national trade marks were created for every international registration protected in the EU before the end of transition period. See: changes to international trade mark registrations after 1 January 2021.
Apply for European trade mark protection
If you want trade mark protection in countries which are members of the EU, you can apply for:
- a registered trade mark in each of the separate EU countries
- an EU Trade Mark (EUTM) through the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).
EUTM is valid within all the member countries of the EU and gives you exclusive rights to use and protect your trade mark throughout the EU.
To apply for an EUTM, you can fill in an online application form on the EUIPO website, or print the form and then fill it in. You don't have to register for a UK trade mark first.
The EUTM application fee is:
- €850 for first class of goods or services or €1000 if filed on a paper form
- €50 for second class
- €150 for third class
- €150 for fourth and all subsequent classes
Fees must be paid in Euros directly to EUIPO.
Anyone can file a European Union trade mark application at EUIPO. However, if you do not have a place of business, a real and effective establishment or your domicile in the European Union, you must appoint a representative for all proceedings before the Office.
You can only choose a fully qualified legal professional (such as a solicitor or barrister) or a specialist in IP law to represent you. Read more about the address requirements to represent in intellectual property after 1 January 2021.
From 1 January 2021, EUTMs no longer protect trade marks in the UK. On this date, comparable UK trade marks were created for all right holders with an existing EUTM. See: EU trade mark protection and comparable UK trade marks from 1 January 2021.
Registering trade marks overseas is a complex legal area and once mistakes are made they can't usually be rectified. It is advisable to seek specialist help from a qualified trade mark attorney in your area.
Protecting patents abroad
How to go about applying for a patent in Europe or abroad
A patent only protects your invention in the country where the patent is registered. A UK patent for your invention applies in the UK only.
If you plan to sell or license your invention abroad, you should consider applying for protection abroad. If you don't, anyone can legally make, use or sell your invention overseas.
European patent protection
To protect your patent in more than 30 countries in Europe, you can apply using the European Patent Convention (EPC).
You can apply:
- through the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO) or
- directly to the European Patent Office (EPO)
Your application will be processed as a single application, it will undergo a single search and examination process, but once granted it becomes separate patents in the countries you designate.
If you only want protection in a few European countries, you can get protection by applying to the national patent office in those countries.
You can claim priority from an existing patent application if you apply abroad within 12 months of your original application. Your later application will be treated as if you applied on the same date as the original application.
You can also get protection in Europe using the Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT). This is available through the UK IPO, the EPO or the World Intellectual Property Organization.
You may have to file translations of your patent application in order to obtain patent protection in certain countries.
Find out more about applying for European patents.
EU Exit does not affect the UK's membership of the European Patent Convention. You can continue to file applications as previously. Existing patents are also unaffected. See: changes to patent law from 1 January 2021.
International patent protection
You can protect your invention in many international countries using the Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT). A PCT application is initially processed as a single application. You will receive an international search report and written opinion. Your application is published around 18 months from the earliest priority date. You then have to process your application separately in each country.
If you are a UK, Gibraltar or Guernsey resident or national, you may file your international application with the UK IPO or the EPO. You may also file direct to the World Intellectual Property Organization, who administer the PCT.
If you file your application with the UK IPO, they will forward it to a PCT international search authority which for them is the EPO. The search authority will then:
- carry out a search
- provide you with an opinion on the patentability of your invention
- publish your application as soon as possible after 18 months from the priority date
After publication you can file a request for an international preliminary examination. The examination is optional, but it should help you decide whether to pursue the patent granting procedure in each of the contracting states in which you wish to get protection.
Detailed information on the PCT process is outlined in the guide to the PCT.
A PCT application has the same effect as a regular patent filing in each of the national or regional offices of the PCT contracting states that you designate when you file.
EU Exit does not affect the UK's membership of the Patent Cooperation Treaty. You can continue to file applications as previously. Existing patents are also unaffected. See: changes to patent law from 1 January 2021.
Patent law is complex and it can be difficult to obtain a patent abroad. You should consider seeking advice from a patent attorney or other professional adviser. Search for a patent attorney in your area.
Protecting copyright abroad
Understand how copyright protection works overseas
There is no such thing as an international copyright law. Details of national laws may vary from country to country, but basic rights will be the same for most due to international conventions and agreements that set minimum standards for the protection of rights of the creators of copyrighted works around the world.
In most cases, protection of your copyright work abroad will be automatic in the same way UK protection works.
Key conventions and agreements relating to copyright
The UK is a member of several international conventions in the field of copyright, including:
- Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works
- Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organisations
- World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT)
- WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT)
- Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)
Copyright material created by UK nationals or residents and falling within the scope of one of these conventions is automatically protected in each member country of the convention by the national law of that country.
Level of copyright protection
Most countries (including all European Union Member States) belong to at least the Berne Convention and/or TRIPS which is a World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement:
- The Berne Convention is the main international convention governing copyright. It lays down the minimum standards of protection (in relation to the types of works protected, rights granted and the term of protection) that all contracting states must incorporate in their national laws and extend to foreign artists and authors. In some countries, specific rules may apply that alter or add to the minimum standards set by the Berne Convention.
- The TRIPS Agreement obliges WTO members to comply with the same principles of national treatment and automatic protection for copyright as the Berne Convention.
The Rome Convention and the WPPT provide some protection for performers, producers of sound recordings and broadcasters, while the WTC enhances certain protection provided by the Berne Convention. The number of countries that are members of these conventions is more limited than Berne/TRIPS. Find a list of countries that belong to the different conventions:
Protection of copyright in Europe
In the EU, each of the Member State has its own copyright law and policy. However, copyright is largely harmonised by a body of EU directives and regulations that build on the aforementioned international treaties. The aim of harmonisation is to enable copyright protected goods and services to move freely within the internal market. Find details of the EU's regulatory framework for copyright.
A substantial part of UK copyright law was derived from the EU law when the UK was a member state. Some areas of UK copyright law have therefore been affected by EU Exit. For current information, see: changes to copyright law from 1 January 2021.
The Berne Convention provides that works will receive automatic protection without formality (ie registration). However, you may choose to use a copyright notice - marking your work with the international © symbol, followed by the name of the copyright owner and year in which the work was created.
Some countries allow for voluntary national registration/deposit of works protected by copyright, which can prove beneficial in some situations. For example, saving time and money in the case of a dispute. Other countries, such as the US, have an official register of copyright which you might want to use.
Registration is not an essential condition for copyright to subsist in any Berne/TRIPS member country. See more on copyright for your business.
Collective licensing at an international level
It can be difficult to monitor your copyright on a worldwide scale. In many countries, copyright collective management organisations (CMOs), also known as collecting societies, can:
- agree licences with users on behalf of copyright owners
- collect any royalties the owners are owed
- distribute these royalties back to rightsholders
Find out more about licensing bodies and collecting societies.
CMOs in the European Economic Area (EEA) are no longer required to represent UK right holders or the catalogues of UK CMOs for online licensing of rights. You can still request representation, but EEA CMOs may be free to refuse depending on the law in individual Member State. See: collective rights management from 1 January 2021.
Protecting designs abroad
Understand how to protect your designs in Europe and in overseas markets
Registering your design in the UK does not protect it abroad. If you want to register your design in countries other than the UK, there are a number of ways in which you can do so:
- you can apply for a Registered Community Design (RCD) covering the whole of the European Union (EU)
- you can use the Hague System to apply to a number of different countries or territories at the same time, through a single application
- you can apply directly to most major countries of the world by making a separate application to each country in which you want protection
Using unregistered design rights
You may also be able to rely on automatic unregistered design rights in the countries concerned, for example the Unregistered Community Design (UCD) right which covers the whole of the EU.
A UCD comes into existence automatically when the design is first made available to the public within the EU Community. It is protected for a period of three years from the date on which the design was first made available. After three years, the protection cannot be extended.
From 1 January 2021, UCDs have ceased to have effect in the UK. New types of rights have been introduced to compensate for the loss of UCDs: Continuing Unregistered Designs (CUD) and Supplementary Unregistered Design (SUD). For current information on these, see: changes to unregistered designs from 1 January 2021.
Claiming a priority date
You may be able to claim a priority date if you apply for design protection in another country, within six months of applying for the same design in the UK.
This means having the date on which you applied for the earlier design accepted as the date on which you filed the later application.
Priority dates are only granted in countries which have signed the Paris Convention or are members of the World Trade Organization.
European design protection
If you want design protection in countries which are members of the EU, you can apply for a Registered Community Design (RCD). An RCD gives you the exclusive right to use your design in all EU countries. It allows you to take action against infringements and stop imports into the EU of goods that infringe your design.
The fee for registering and publishing one RCD is €350 for five years' protection.
Find out more about registering RCDs.
From 1 January 2021, RCDs have ceased to have effect in the UK. All RCDs existing before this date have been automatically cloned into equivalent UK registered designs. For current information, see: changes to EU and international designs and trade mark protection from 1 January 2021.
If you are seeking registered design protection for a new design in both the UK and EU, you will have to submit separate applications to the UKIPO and EUIPO.
International design registrations
The Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs allows you to simultaneously apply for a design in many different countries or territories, through a single application to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
An international application does not have to be based on an existing design application, or registration. The cost to apply depends on which and how many countries you want your design to be protected in.
From 1 January 2021, protected international design registrations designating the EU have ceased to have effect in the UK. On this date, such registrations have been automatically replaced by equivalent UK rights. For current information on these, see: international EU protected designs after 1 January 2021.
For more information on design protection, see design right and registration.
Intellectual property rights in different countries
Guidance on intellectual property systems in key markets throughout the world
The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has produced a range of country-specific guides to help you protect and manage your intellectual property (IP) abroad.
They describe the issues you may face with IP infringement, how to deal with them and where to find sources of further help.
Country guides currently available are:
Find out more about protecting intellectual property.
Get help with protecting your IP overseas
Protecting and managing your IP abroad can be very complex. If you plan on selling, distributing, manufacturing, or sourcing your products abroad, you should seek help from an IP attorney or a professional IP adviser.
UK overseas intellectual property attaché network
For complex issues or detailed advice on IP overseas, you can contact one of the IPO's IP liaison officers (attachés) operating in key export markets. Find contact details for IPO's attachés.
The attachés can advise you on the legal and enforcement options you might have and may signpost you to additional support or legal advice in relevant markets.
Businesses in Northern Ireland can also contact Invest Northern Ireland for help with IP protection.
Securing IP protection in overseas markets - EcoDepo (video)
Tom Fairbairn, the CEO of Eco Depo, talks about how they protected their intellectual property in overseas markets
Tom Fairbairn, the CEO of Eco Depo, explains how they have protected their intellectual property (IP) in overseas markets.
Eco Depo started business in 2006. They currently export their unique waste recycling system to over 12 countries worldwide, including the USA, Canada and Russia. To protect their brand in different markets, Eco Depo looked at securing trade mark protection outside the UK.
In this video, Tom examines the types of IP they had to consider when entering new markets. He talks about the business benefits of IP protection, and explains how they have secured and defended their trade mark across several international markets.