Intellectual property rights

Copyright, trademarks, design rights, and patents

Intellectual property (or IP) refers to creative work which can be treated as an asset or physical property. Intellectual property rights fall principally into four main areas; copyright, trademarks, design rights and patents.


Copyright applies to work that is recorded in some way; rights exist in items such as literary, artistic, musical and dramatic work as well as films, sound recordings and typographical arrangements. It gives the author specific rights in relation to the work, prohibits unauthorised actions, and allows the author to take legal action against instances of infringement or plagiarism.

Please see our pages: Copyright law, the Berne Convention, or UK copyright law for more details of the protection.

Copyright is an automatic international right, and excepting specific considerations for US citizens, a single registration with the UK Copyright Service ensures you have verifiable evidence of copyright ownership to help prove and protect your rights at a worldwide level. Immediate protection is available via the online copyright registration facility, while postal applications are typically processed in just a few days.


A trademark can be a name, word, slogan, design, symbol or other unique device that identifies a product or organisation.

Trademarks are registered at a national or territory level with an appointed government body and may take anywhere between 6 and 18 months to be processed.

Registering in countries such as the US, the UK, Japan, etc will protect your mark in that country only, but within the European Union, there now exists a Community Trade Mark (CTM) which covers the mark in all EU countries.

There is also the Madrid System that provides a facility to submit trademarks applications to many countries at the same time.

Registered trademarks may be identified by the abbreviation ‘TM’, or the ‘®’ symbol. (it is illegal to use the ® symbol or state that the trademark is registered until the trademark has in fact been registered).

In the US there is also a differentiation between marks used for products or services, with a classification called service-marks used for services, though they in fact receive the same legal protection as trademarks.

In most countries, the national patent office will also administer trademarks.

Design rights

Designs may be subject to both copyright and design rights. They may also be registered in a similar way to patents. For information on design rights, please see our fact sheet P-15:Designs and design rights.


Patents apply to industrial processes and inventions, and protect against the unauthorised implementation of the invention.

Patents are grants made by national governments that give the creator of an invention an exclusive right to use, sell or manufacture the invention. Like trademarks, patents are registered at a national or territory level with an appointed government body. Patents typically take 2 to 3 years to be granted.

More information

For more information about registering copyright work, please see our copyright registration pages.

For more information about patents, trademarks and registered design, or to apply for your own patent or trademark, you should contact your national patent or trademark office.

Links to patent and trademark offices