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What are the 5 Types of Intellectual Property in UK Law

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A quick overview of 5 types of IP in the UK

There are lots of different ways to protect knowledge assets in the UK. Here's a brief overview of patents, trade marks, copyright, design rights and trade secrets.

Image of an array of coloured pencils arranged in a circular and gradient fashion. Represenative of the different selection of IP types covered in the blog.

Photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash

Words by Dr Martin Douglas Hendry

Intellectual property (IP) is a term used to describe a range of intangible assets that individuals and businesses can own and protect under law. In the UK, there are five main types of IP that are recognized and protected. In this article, we will provide an overview of each type of IP, including what it covers, how to obtain protection, and how long it lasts.


Patents - protecting inventions


A patent is a legal right granted to inventors, which gives them the exclusive right to make, use, and sell their invention for a certain period of time. In the UK, there are three types of patents that can be obtained:

  • Standard patents: these protect new inventions or improvements to existing inventions, and typically last for up to 20 years from the filing date.
  • Short-term patents: these protect minor inventions, and typically last for up to 10 years from the filing date.
  • Supplementary protection certificates: these extend the duration of a patent for up to 5 years for certain pharmaceutical and plant protection products.

To obtain a patent in the UK, the invention must meet certain criteria, including novelty, inventive step, and industrial applicability. A patent application can be filed with the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO).



Trademarks - protecting brands


A trademark is a sign that distinguishes the goods or services of one trader from those of others. It can be a word, phrase, logo, or combination of these. In the UK, trademarks can be registered with the IPO for a period of 10 years, which can be renewed indefinitely.

To obtain a trademark in the UK, the sign must be distinctive, not misleading, and not offensive. A trademark application can be filed with the IPO, and once registered, the trademark owner can use the ® symbol to indicate that it is a registered trademark.



Copyright - protecting creative works


Copyright is a legal right that protects original works of authorship, such as literary, artistic, musical, and dramatic works. In the UK, copyright protection is automatic and lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

To obtain copyright protection, the work must be original and fixed in a tangible medium of expression, such as a book, painting, or recording. Copyright does not protect ideas, only the expression of those ideas.



Design Rights - protecting non-functional design elements


A design is the appearance of a product, including its shape, configuration, pattern, or ornamentation. In the UK, designs can be registered with the IPO for a period of up to 25 years, provided that they are new and have individual character.

To obtain a design registration, the design must be new and have individual character. A design application can be filed with the IPO, and once registered, the design owner can prevent others from using a similar design.



Trade Secrets - protecting business secrets


A trade secret is any confidential information that is valuable to a business because it is not generally known or easily discoverable by others. In the UK, trade secrets are protected under common law, which means that there is no formal registration process.

To protect trade secrets, businesses must take steps to keep the information confidential, such as using non-disclosure agreements and limiting access to the information. Trade secrets can last indefinitely, as long as they remain confidential.



Conclusion - 5 types of IP


In summary, the 5 types of intellectual property in UK law are patents, trademarks, copyrights, designs, and trade secrets. Each type of IP provides different forms of protection, and it is important for individuals and businesses to understand their rights and take steps to protect their IP assets. By doing so, they can prevent others from using their ideas and innovations without permission, and ensure that they are properly rewarded for their hard work and creativity.


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Look at our other guides that relate to this topic here.

What is meant by intellectual property and why is it an important issue today?

The importance of trademark registration in your business

What happens if you use a trade mark without permission



Virtuoso Legal is a team of intellectual property specialists based in Leeds and London - operating worldwide. Virtuoso Legal's team of IP experts have successfully tried cases in the IPEC, High Court, Court of Appeals and United Kingdom Supreme Court. In addition, the team assist companies in creating, commercialising and protecting the big ideas that make their business unique. The firm and its professionals are ranked yearly in legal directories such as the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners, cementing their status as a Top 2% law firm in the world.

DISCLAIMER: The content within this post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Virtuoso Legal does not take any responsibility for those that use this information and waives any liability for any resulting effect on your personal or commercial circumstances.

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