Frequently Asked Questions about Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is a complex subject, which makes it difficult to know where to start. Here you can find answers to some of the most common questions we are asked. If you have any other queries or you'd like us to expand on something, please don't hesitate to contact us to speak to one of our experts.

  1. What is intellectual property?

    • Definition: ‘Products of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, any symbols, names, images and designs used in commerce’ (World Intellectual Property Organization).
    • Intellectual property (IP) includes patents, trade marks, registered and unregistered designs copyright and Common Law Rights (against “passing off”).
    • IP is an intangible asset that adds substantial value to a business and can provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
    • IP can be exploited by licence agreements to earn royalties.
  2. Will I own the intellectual property that I create?

    • The creator of an item of intellectual property usually owns it.
    • There are however certain exceptions to this rule – e.g. if IP is created during the course of a particular commissioned project it usually belongs to the commissioning company or academic institution.
  3. What can I protect?

    • The way a product works: PATENTS
    • The way a product looks: REGISTERED DESIGNS
    • What a product is called: TRADE MARKS
    • What a product says: COPYRIGHT
  4. What is a patent?

    • Definition: ‘A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem’ (World Intellectual Property Organization).
    • Patents protect the features and processes that make things work. This lets inventors profit from their inventions.
  5. What is patentable?

    • New products;
    • Improved parts and features of products;
    • New or improved methods and processes;
      • Methods of manufacturing;
      • Test methods.
    • New uses of known things;
    • Software – This is only patentable if claiming a technical effect.
  6. How long does a patent last?

    • A patent lasts for up to 20 years if you pay renewal fees at yearly intervals.
  7. How do I apply for a patent?

    • You can apply for a UK patent directly at the UK Intellectual Property Office, or you can authorise a patent agent to act on your behalf.
    • Chartered patent agents are professionally qualified people who are experienced in dealing with the UK Intellectual Property Office and the application procedure.
  8. Which countries are covered by my patent?

    • A patent granted by the UK Intellectual Property Office only provides protection the UK.
    • If you want protection in other countries, you need to file further applications through the European Patent Convention (EPC), the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) or individually if the countries that you seek protection in do not belong to either the EPC or the PCT.
  9. Should I tell anyone about my invention before I apply to protect it?

    • No! It is very important that you do not tell anyone else about your invention before you apply to patent it. Telling others might make your patent invalid.
  10. What is a trade mark?

    • Definition: ‘A trademark is a distinctive sign which identifies certain goods or services as those produced or provided by a specific person or enterprise’ (World Intellectual Property Organization).