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What is Intellectual Property in Simple Words?

Back to IP FAQs Overview

A simple clarification about IP

And how it helps businesses protect their big ideas.

Image of a lightbulb, it has immaculate detail against a red and dark brown background.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Words by Dr Martin Douglas Hendry

This FAQ explains what intellectual property is in the simplest terms possible. We have many other written pieces which go into more depth and complexity. Please look at the other content hosted on our website to find out more.

Intellectual property (IP) is a concept that has become increasingly important in the modern world. It refers to the creations of your mind that can be legally protected. These creations can be anything from inventions and literary works to trademarks and business secrets. Businesses that understand, protect and grow their IP are more successful than those that don't, and a good idea of how to protect what makes you special is one of the best competitive advantages to have,



Why is intellectual property important?


IP is important because it gives individuals and businesses the legal ability to protect their unique creations and inventions from being copied or used without permission.

It provides legal recourse for those who feel their intellectual property rights have been violated, and it allows inventors and creators to profit from their work.

The intellectual property system more generally is there to encourage people to come up with new and better ideas – as if they do they can profit from them, driving human innovation forward.



Types of Intellectual Property


There are five main types of intellectual property protection, as found in IP law:

Patents - These protect new inventions, including products, machines, processes, and compositions of matter. Patents are granted by the government and give the inventor the exclusive right to make, use, and sell their invention for a set period of time.

Trademarks - These protect brand names, logos, and other symbols that identify your business. Trademarks help prevent others from using similar names or symbols that could confuse customers.

Copyright – This protects original works of art, literature, music, and other creative expressions. Copyrights give the owner the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and perform their work for a set period of time.

Design Rights – Design rights protect the superficial characteristics of a design, so long as they do not have a functional aspect. This can be seen in appealing product designs that have surface ornamentation or an appealing decorative aspect. There are both registered and unregistered versions of design rights in the UK and in the EU.

Trade Secrets - These protect confidential information, like formulas, processes, or designs that give your business a competitive edge. Trade secrets are protected by keeping the information confidential and can last indefinitely.



Intangible Assets


In addition to the five main types of intellectual property protection, all businesses have what are called "intangible assets", to which IP law and other approaches can be applied.

These are things that are valuable to the business but can't be physically touched or seen. Examples of intangible assets include know-how, knowledge, processes, systems, reputation, and goodwill.

It's important for businesses to protect their intangible assets, just like they would protect their physical property, and they can often be overlooked.

This can include measures like keeping trade secrets confidential, registering trademarks, protecting copyright works, and taking legal action against those who infringe on a businesses’ intellectual property rights around these key intangible assets.

Having a sense of what intangible assets your business has is key, and the next step is to create a plan about how to best protect them.



Protecting Intangible Assets


Protecting intangible assets can be challenging because they are often difficult to define and quantify.

One of the first things it is good for businesses to undertake is an IP audit or scoping out exercise.

This helps businesses understand what intangible assets they have, how valuable it is and whether or not more action should be taken to protect them.

After all, it's important for businesses to take steps to protect these assets to ensure they maintain their competitive advantage.

One way businesses can protect their intangible assets is by creating policies and procedures that ensure that their key assets are treated accordingly within standard business practices.

This can include things like restricting access to confidential information to certain levels of seniority within a business and requiring employees to sign non-disclosure agreements or have specific clauses in their contracts that specifically deal with the handling of key intangible assets.

Another way businesses can protect their intangible assets is by registering their trademarks and ensuring that their copyright material is monitored, documented, and enforced.

This gives them legal protection and the ability to take legal action against those who infringe on their rights.

Ultimately, each business’s approach to protecting and maximising the value of its intangible assets is different – and identifying priorities and acting decisively is crucial.



Intellectual Property Law in the UK


Intellectual property is protected in the UK by a combination of laws and regulations, including The Patents Act 1977, The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and The Trade Marks Act 1994, amongst others.

These give inventors and creators the ability to protect their intellectual property and take legal action against those who infringe on their rights and are comprehensively understood by solicitors who specialise in the area.

As such, it's important for businesses to work with a lawyer or intellectual property specialist to ensure that their intellectual property is properly protected and that key priorities are addressed before an issue arises.




In conclusion, intellectual property is an important concept for businesses of all sizes.

By protecting their intellectual property, including their intangible assets, businesses can safeguard their unique creations and competitive advantage.

It's important for businesses to take steps to protect their intellectual property, and to work with legal professionals to ensure that their intellectual property is properly protected.


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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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