Intellectual property for your small business

Intellectual property for your small business

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.

Intellectual property is something unique that you physically create (an idea alone is not intellectual property) and primarily encompasses copyrights, patents and trademarks.

Owning intellectual property

You own intellectual property if you:

  • created it (and it meets the requirements for copyright, a patent or a design)
  • bought intellectual property rights from the creator or a previous owner
  • have a brand that could be a trade mark, for example, a well-known product name

Intellectual property can:

  • have more than one owner
  • belong to people or businesses
  • be sold or transferred

Generally, you won’t own the intellectual property for something you created as part of your work while you were employed by someone else.

Protecting your intellectual property

Think of intellectual property as an asset:

  • Use it to create and sell your own products and/or services
  • Protect against counterfeiting
  • Restrict activities of competitors
  • Licence it to someone else and receive loyalties as a form of income
  • Sell it

Automatic protection

Type of protection

Examples of intellectual property


Writing and literary works, art, photography, films, TV, music, web content, sound recordings

Design right

Shapes of objects

Protection you have to apply for

Type of protection

Examples of intellectual property

Time to allow for application

Trade marks

Product names, logos, jingles

4 months

Registered designs

Appearance of a product including, shape, packaging, patterns, colours, decoration

1 month


Inventions and products, eg machines and machine parts, tools, medicines

Around 5 years


  • Perform an audit to ascertain what existing intellectual property you have
  • Research to see what intellectual property your competitors have
  • Align your intellectual property objectives with your overall business goals
  • Keep informed – set up Google alerts, check Ebay & Amazon, PPC advertising
  • Utilise watching services
  • Further information can be obtained from the government, head over to to see what local intellectual property clinics are available
  • Enlist the services of a professional patent or trademark attorney, who should be registered with CITMA ( or CIPA ( 

Reading next

GDPR Update
How to speak so people really listen