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How to protect your intellectual property with registered IP rights

How to protect your intellectual property with registered IP rights

In the 21st century, for most companies, intellectual property has become one of the most valuable assets a company can own. It can be leveraged to raise finance, generate revenue, and fuel growth. But it needs to be protected – and this article will cover various forms of registered IP protection, including patents, trademarks, and registered designs.

We’ll cover unregistered rights such as copyright and trade secrets, and strategies to improve protection in other ways, in a second article.


A patent is a form of registered IP that gives its owner the exclusive right to stop others from making, using, selling, and importing an invention for a limited period of time, usually a maximum of 20 years. You can find out more about patents on the UK’s Intellectual Property Office website.

For example, Google holds a number of patents for its search algorithm, which means other companies can’t just copy it.

However, obtaining a patent is a complex process, and can be costly and time-consuming. The registration process also requires that the inventor to disclose the details of their invention to the public. So while patents offer robust protection, they might not be suitable for every business.

For example, there may be an argument for using trade secrecy laws to protect an idea – a trade secret can last a lot longer than a patent will, but only if the owner takes stringent steps to make sure it stays secret. You’ll find more on trade secrets in the UK, and how they compare with patents, in this report commissioned by the IPO.

If a company is worried a trade secret might get out, one precaution is to prepare all the paperwork for a patent application for whatever the innovation is, and submit it the moment it looks like a rival has worked out the secrets behind it.

While patents often just cover an innovation in one country, there are international agreements which may allow patents to be registered for multiple countries in one application – the most recent development in this area is the European Unitary Patent, administered by the European Patent Office. You can find out more about the Unitary Patent here.

Trade marks

Another important IP right that you have to register is trade marks. These protect brand names, logos, slogans, and other identifiers of a business. A classic example is the golden arches logo for McDonald’s, which is recognized worldwide.

You can search the UK trade mark database from the IPO website here. If you want to explore trade marks internationally, then the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) offers a global brand database where you can search and register trade marks to protect your brand.

Downsides for trade marks are:

  1. They are usually country or region specific, so companies may need to register multiple times if they expand outside their home market;
  2. They need to be renewed every few years;
  3. You have to apply for each class of business you want to use a trade mark in separately – so checking what classes are relevant to you is vital;
  4. You need to be able to show evidence that you are continuing to use a granted trade mark in each class and country you have registrations for;
  5. And you need to actively defend your trade marks — if not properly managed and defended, trade marks can be lost, potentially damaging a company’s brand.

The biggest upside to trade marks is they can theoretically last forever, if renewal fees are paid and if you keep using them. The first ever trade mark granted in the UK, for Bass beer, is still valid – nearly 150 years after it was first granted in 1876.

You can use the TM symbol on something without the need to register it – it functions effectively as a warning notice and an indication that you may apply to register it. But you cannot use the ® symbol until you have registered something as a trade mark – in most jurisdictions, including the UK, doing so is illegal.

Registered designs

Registered designs protect the appearance of a product. For instance, Apple has registered designs for its iPhones, protecting their distinctive look. WIPO provides an international design system, the Hague System, for the registration of industrial designs.

However, registered designs can only protect the visual features of a product, not its functionality or technical features. This means that while a registered design can prevent others from copying the look of your product, it cannot stop them from creating a product that functions in the same way.

Even so, registered designs can be very important in protecting a company’s IP and its brand. Tyre companies, for example, use registered designs to protect their trade patterns – and take legal action against rivals who copy those patterns.

How to protect your intellectual property



It is essential to understand that IP has value; indeed, it is often the most valuable asset a company has. Whether it’s a patent for a groundbreaking invention, copyright for an original work, or a trade secret that gives your company a competitive edge, protecting your intellectual property is vital for success in today’s business landscape.


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