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Intellectual Property and Work

It is important to understand how intellectual property and your work relate to each other in law. Find out how to protect your work and whether copyright, design right, patents, and trade marks apply to it.

So, what is intellectual property? In simple terms, it is an invention or some kind of work resulting from creativity that qualifies for certain protection rights against theft.

Types of Intellectual Property Protection

There are several different types of protection for intellectual property. Having the right type will help to stop others copying (or stealing):

  • Designs or a certain way that products look.
  • Unique inventions (e.g. robotics).
  • The names or symbols of brands or products.
  • Things made, produced, or written (e.g. books).

Copyright, designs, patents, and trade marks are all common methods of protecting intellectual property. In fact, your work would get certain types of protection by an automatic process. But, you would have to apply for others.

Things that Count as Intellectual Property

Creating something unique ‘physically’ would be something that counts as intellectual property. So, having only an idea about something (by itself) would not count.

Here’s an example:

You might have an innovative idea for writing a children’s book. But, even though the actual idea would not count as intellectual property, putting words about the book in print… would.

Ownership of Intellectual Property

The ownership of intellectual property and your work would have a legal basis for protection against theft if you:

  • Bought the rights to the intellectual property from its creator or a previous owner.
  • Created it yourself (providing it meets the requirements for copyright, a design, or a patent).
  • Have a brand that could be a legal trade mark (e.g. a well-known product name).

In fact, more than one individual can own the same intellectual property. Likewise, it can either belong to people or to businesses, which also means you can sell it or transfer it to someone else.

Intellectual Property Rights for Self Employed

As a rule, being self-employed means you would own the intellectual property by yourself. It would apply even if someone else commissioned the work. An exception to this rule would occur if a contract gives ownership rights to the other party.

Note: In most cases, owning the intellectual property for something you created in relation to the work of your employer would not qualify.

How to Protect Intellectual Property

There are several important reasons for protecting your intellectual property and your work. It also simplifies the process of taking legal action against anyone who copies or steals it.

As the owner, it would be your responsibility to defend your intellectual property against an IP infringement.

The product or service you create will determine what type of protection you can get. Certain types of protection occur ‘automatically’, whereas you would need to apply for other types.

Protection You Need to Apply For:

  • Patents (allow up to 5 years for application): (e.g. inventions and products, such as machines and machine parts, medicines, tools)
  • Registered designs (allow 1 month for application): (e.g. appearance of a product, such as colours, decoration packaging, patterns, shape)
  • Trade marks (allow 4 months for application): (e.g. jingles, logos, product names)

Note: You should keep the information on these types of intellectual properties a secret until they get registered. You can use non-disclosure agreements (NDA) if the idea needs discussing with someone.

Automatic Protection:

  • Copyright: (e.g. art, films, music, photography, TV, web content, sound recordings, writing and literary works,)
  • Design right: (e.g. the shape of objects)

Using Several Types of Intellectual Property Protection

Intellectual property law UK allows you to link more than one type of protection to a single product. For example, you would be able to:

  • Patent a completely new working part.
  • Protect the unique shape of a product as a registered design.
  • Register a name and a logo as a trade mark.
  • Use copyright to protect the drawings of a product.

Note: You may need to prove you own, or have applied for, a trade mark, patent, or design registration. If so, you can get certified or uncertified copies of your UK patent, trade mark, or design registration documents.

Where to Get Free Help and Advice

There are several ways to get help with intellectual property right. Generally, you should first consider which type of protection you are going to need.

You can get help and expert advice from:

  • A professional Patent Attorney or Chartered Trade Mark Attorney (basic advice is usually free of charge).
  • A Patent Library Centre based at several locations around the United Kingdom.
  • IP Equip, a free online intellectual property course delivered by the experts at the UK Intellectual Property Office. It is a good way to find out exactly which type of intellectual property you own.

Note: Find out how to defend your intellectual property after an infringement (e.g. abuse or misuse). The guide explains how to get help resolving disputes and what kind of legal action you can take.



Understanding how copyright protects your work can help avoid cases of infringement. Further details in the guide explain:

  • How long copyright lasts in United Kingdom
  • How to stop people using your work (without permission)
  • The process of licencing and selling a copyright you own

Three types of protection cover designs and design rights. The details will usually be unregistered, but you can register design right or protect it by copyright. The section also explains:

  • Application procedure to register a design
  • How to find a registered design
  • How to update or cancel your registered designs


A patents step by step guide is a good place to start if you have a novel idea for patenting. The section explains the patent process with extra information on:

  • How to apply for, change, renew, or update a patent
  • How to file documents for a pending United Kingdom patent
  • How to search for a patent (or patent decisions)
Playing Live or Recorded Music

As a rule, you will need to get a licence to play live or recorded music in public places. The topics in this section include:

  • What is TheMusicLicence and how does it work
  • Who needs a licence to play live or recorded music in public
  • How to get a licence from PPL PRS Ltd and the cost

Trade Marks

Common uses of the UK trade mark rules are distinguishing one party from another and protecting against imitation. The advice and information in the section also clarifies:

  • How to apply to register a trade mark
  • Renewing or searching for a trade mark (or trade mark decisions)
  • Procedures for updating or surrendering your registered trade marks
  • The process of giving notice of your intention to oppose a trade mark

Note: The short video [1:20 seconds] is part of the IP Basics series. It provides a quick introduction to intellectual property produced by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

Using Intellectual Property

As a rule, you would need to get permission BEFORE you start using somebody else’s intellectual property (IP) or creative work under copyright. Check how to get permission to use copyright, designs, patents, and trade marks.

Note: The Intellectual Property Office provides further information for customers and users of IP and how the IPO will operate from January 1st 2021 (e.g. after the end of the transition period).

Intellectual Property: How to Protect Your Work in United Kingdom