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What is Intellectual Property?

“Intellectual property” is a term for belongings that you have created or designed.

These belongs could include inventions, literary and other creative or artistic works. Intellectual property (IP) also extends to any confidential information which is technical or commercial.

Why is intellectual property important?

Often new businesses’ success hinges upon new ideas, creations or inventions.  These are all types of intellectual property.  All companies also have confidential information, which is technical or commercial. Intellectual property is highly valuable and is a core asset of your company.

You need to understand your IP rights so that you can:

  • protect what belongs to you
  • legally prevent others from using your IP
  • use, licence and assign ownership of your IP to other people
  • avoid infringing other people’s IP (i.e. copying their stuff by mistake)
  • show potential investors (or buyers) that you’ve protected your business-critical IP before they invest

To transfer ownership of certain IP rights to another business, you can use an assignment of intellectual property agreement. This will ensure that the rights are accurately identified and assigned. To licence rights to use your intellectual property you will need to issue an intellectual property licence.

What are the four main types of intellectual property?

1. Trademarks

Trademarks are signs or symbols which distinguish the goods and services of a particular business (its brand). Trademarks come in many different forms, the most common being logos and words and slogans. For more information read Trademarks.

2. Patents

A patent protects your inventions so that no one else can copy, manufacture, sell, or import without your express permission for up to 20 years. The new inventions must be original, involve an inventive step and be capable of industrial application. For further information read Patents.

3. Design rights

Design rights protect how a product looks and prevent others from copying it. Unregistered rights automatically arise on the creation of the product and providing the design is new and original you can apply to register the design at the Intellectual Property Office. For further information read Registered and unregistered design rights.

4. Copyright

Copyright protects physical, tangible creative works, such as novels, art, music and maps. There’s no need to register the copyright, and it can last up to 70 years after the death of the creator. For more information read Copyright.

How to protect your ideas

Protecting valuable and sensitive information should be a priority for any business.

You should think about signing a legally-binding confidentiality agreement (also known as a non-disclosure agreement (or “NDA”) before sharing confidential information with anyone else.  Remember you may also have certain obligations to protect confidential information under the EU General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”).

You can either use a one-way confidentiality agreement if only one business is sharing information or a standard two-way NDA if two firms are sharing information.

If an employee creates works embodying intellectual property rights during their employment, those rights will vest in the employer, unless there is an agreement to the contrary. In such an event, the employee’s Employment Contract should be considered, as there are usually rules detailing how intellectual property is to be handled.

If someone uses your IP without asking you?

If someone uses your IP without permission, a cease and desist letter will inform the person that they are using your IP without consent and ask them to stop and refrain from using it in future. Read Cease and desist letters for further information.