What are Intellectual Property Rights?

Intellectual Rroperty Rights (IP) refers to a person's rights in creations of the mind. These include inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce.

Intellectual Property laws allow people to own the work they create. IP results from the expression of an idea. It might be a brand, an invention, a design, a song or another intellectual creation that you have created.

You can own, buy and sell Intellectual Property. Every business will own some form of intellectual property. It could be anything from a product's artistic design, shape, some form of technology or business brand.

Do you know how to protect and exploit your intellectual property?

Intellectual Property Rights

There are four main types of Intellectual Property Rights out of which rights to protection arise.

  • Patents: protect what makes things work
  • Trade Marks: are signs (like words and logos) that distinguish goods and services in the marketplace
  • Designs: protect the appearance of a product/logo, from the shape of an aeroplane to a fashion item
  • Copyright: is an automatic right. This right applies when the work is fixed, written or recorded in some way.

Infringement of Intellectual Property Rights usually takes place when a person -  not the owner - exercises any of the exclusive rights without the permission of the owner. Illegal use of IP, such as copyright can also be a crime. Counterfeiters illegally use other people's trade marks. Piracy relates to the illegal use of copyright material.

Intellectual Property Rights and the business

As a result organisations must (1) protect their Intellectual Property Rights from infringement (e.g. Unauthorised copying of material on the organisation's website), and (2) not infringe the Intellectual Property Rights of third parties (e.g. Posting unauthorised material to a 3rd party website).

Online, intellectual property rights may exist when new material is introduced. For example computer programs that drive the website or other digital platforms and the business processes embedded in them. Businesses can also infringe another's rights, for example, by using metatags, framing, and linking. These technological elements bring into play new and potentially unfamiliar aspects of copyright and the other rights with which non-technology businesses have traditionally been concerned. They also engage rights, such as patents, that may be completely new to some types of business, particularly in the services sector.

You must use appropriate licences and notices to help limit the organisation's online liability.


The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is the United Nations agency dedicated to championing the use of intellectual property to stimulate innovation and creativity.

WIPO promotes the development and use of the international IP system through:

  • Services - WIPO runs systems which make it easier to obtain protection internationally for patents, trademarks, designs and appellations of origin; and to resolve IP disputes.
  • Law - WIPO helps develop the international legal IP framework in line with society’s evolving needs.
  • Infrastructure - WIPO builds collaborative networks and technical platforms to share knowledge and simplify IP transactions, including free databases and tools for exchanging information.
  • Development - WIPO builds capacity in the use of IP to support economic development.

WIPO also works with its member states and stakeholders to improve understanding and respect for IP worldwide. WIPO provide economic analysis and statistics. WIPO also contributes IP-based solutions to help tackle global challenges.

European Union

The uniform system of protection of Intellectual Property Rights, ranging from industrial property to copyright and related rights, constitutes the foundation for creativeness and innovation within the European Union. Standardisation of Intellectual Property rules at EU level allow for the basic principles of the internal market (the free movement of goods and services and free competition).

The European Union possesses two important bodies to carry out its mission

The Commission is currently campaigning for the effective introduction of a community-wide patent system. The aim is to create a less costly and more legally effective registration process, as a guarantee of competitiveness for European industry. Finally, the protection of these rights also entails protecting them against piracy, illegal trade and counterfeiting.

United Kingdom

In the UK, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) oversees the Intellectual Property regime. It is part of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

Hargreaves Review

In May 2011 Professor Ian Hargreaves published his Independent review of IP & growth. The Government broadly accepted the Review's 10 recommendations on 3 August 2011.


Small and Medium sized businesses (SMEs) can now benefit from a new law. This will give them easier access to justice to protect their patent and design rights. A damages cap of 500,000 GBP for claims made in the Patents County Court (PCC) means small companies claiming damages up to that amount are less likely to face a considerably more expensive trip to the High Court. The Patents County Court (Financial Limit) Order 2011 creates a clearer definition of what disputes can be heard in the PCC and which ones should go to the High Court. Compare this with the previous situation. A business with a legal case worth less than 500,000 GBP could face litigation in either court with unknown levels of financial risk.

The change in law will ensure that lower value, less complex cases will automatically fall within the jurisdiction of the lower, cheaper PCC. In addition, you can reduce the risk of having costly disputes over where you should hear the case. In the past high costs deterred some companies from protecting their rights due to the uncertainty over how much it would cost.