A guide to protecting your intellectual property

Protecting your intellectual property isn’t just for big businesses – it can add value to any business, providing you apply for the correct type of protection. In this brief guide to IP, Serjeants explains the different types of IP protection, the business benefits and how to apply.

Different types of IP protection

There are several ways for protecting your intellectual property, depending on the type of IP you want to protect:

  • Patents – useful for protecting inventions such as devices, industrial processes, chemicals, pharmaceuticals or computer software that provides a new technical effect that works in a new way. You must keep your invention secret. You can’t obtain patent protection if you have publicly disclosed your idea. A specification must be submitted to the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) which details the technical description of the invention plus the legal claims. It is rigorously examined for novelty and inventive step. The process takes between 2 and 5 years, however it provides strong protection against infringers for up to 20 years.


  • Design rights – these can be either registered or unregistered and are used to protect products that look different to other products already on the market. Unregistered design rights come into effect automatically and it is up to you to keep detailed records of where/how the design is used. They last for 10 years from first marketing in the UK and three years from first publication in the EU. Registered design rights are stronger and longer-lasting and must be applied for. They last for 25 years with renewal every 5 years.


  • Copyright – this protects original creative work, including text, images and music. Copyright is automatically granted to the owner of the creative work, unless it is done in the course of employment when it automatically belongs to the employer, unless a contract states otherwise. Documentation to show the development of the idea/text/image is useful if you ever need to take action against a third party.


  • Trade marks – protection for a name, logo, colour, sound, shape, moving image etc that identifies your product or business can be found in a trade mark. To obtain protection you must file an application with the UKIPO detailing the mark you wish to register along with the goods and services you would like the mark to cover. You may need professional advice to select the correct classes of goods and services to cover, particularly now that social media has started to blur the lines between industries. Protection in the UK takes around 4-6 months. Once it has been approved by the examiner it is published for 2 months to allow third parties to raise objections. If no objections are received, the mark will be registered. Trade marks initially last for 10 years, after which you need to apply for a renewal.


Why should you obtain IP protection and what are the business benefits?

Protecting your intellectual property is important for any business, but particularly for smaller ones as they often don’t have the strong reputation that larger businesses have, which can help in instances of IP infringement. Having the correct IP protection in place makes it easier to take action against anyone stealing or copying your IP.  And protecting your intellectual property is relatively cheap and easy!

Another added benefit is that once you have obtained IP protection, you can license your IP out to third parties and obtain royalties or a fee for doing so. There are various forms of licence, and some allow you to use the mark yourself at the same time as charging for the use of it.

IP protection also gives you exclusivity. It provides the security of knowing that the protection is in place during the development of your business. Although it doesn’t guarantee that no one else will be trading under the specific mark in that particular business area, it does allow you to prevent other businesses from using the IP if you have the protection.

Finally, IP protection can add value to your business. It is an asset that can be very valuable if you are selling. Showing that you have protection in place can be very attractive to potential buyers.

How to obtain protection for your intellectual property

The first step in obtaining IP protection is determining which aspects of your business, its products or services can and should be protected. Taking advice from an experienced patent or trade mark attorney is a good idea to ensure you apply for the correct protection.

The earlier you protect your IP in the development of your business process the better.

Filing an application with the UKIPO, EUIPO or EPO is relatively straightforward, however it is a long-winded and time-consuming process, which is why it’s often better to let a patent or trade mark attorney handle it for you.

Further information about protecting your IP in the UK can be found on the government website, www.ipo.gov.uk.

If you would like to discuss protecting your intellectual property, speak to one of our expert attorneys on 0116 233 2626 or contact us here.