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Protect your profits

Miles Rees, business outreach and education manager at the Intellectual Property Office, guides you through protecting your ideas and innovations

Your idea

Miles Rees

When you have an idea and it takes some tangible form, then you need to think about intellectual property (IP). Every business owns some form of IP, including names, logos, products and designs. Protecting IP allows people and businesses to own and profit from their ideas, whatever form they come in ? which is a vital investment for businesses wanting to maintain market share and grow their offering in a challenging environment.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) offers a raft of initiatives to help businesses realise the benefits that IP awareness can bring and allow them to use it to grow and strengthen their enterprises at this crucial time. We work with businesses in various ways, offering advice and assistance at all stages of development.

The first step is to identify the type of IP protection that is right for your business. It is a common misconception that IP relates only to inventors and registering patents for new products, and as a consequence, many people are unaware of the profit and benefits that can come from registering trade marks, designs and copyrights.

There are also several myths surrounding intellectual property protection ? that it is expensive, takes years and acts only as a badge or certification of something you?ve produced. The reality is hugely different; protecting your creations is vital, and will prevent anybody else claiming credit, or more importantly, profiting from your ideas and products. As for cost and time, many types of intellectual property measures are very cost effective, and there are options for accelerating applications and achieving pending status even if the registration is not yet complete.

Identifying what IP assets you have

Once you have your idea, the first step is to take advantage and make full use of the online Healthcheck tool on the IPO website. This free service, available at, has been designed to help business owners understand IP and find out how to protect their ideas and creations to drive their business forward. Users are offered advice on identifying, protecting and commercially exploiting IP. It also allows users to learn more about the different types of IP: trade marks, copyright works, patents, designs and design rights.

Types of IP

Trade Marks

A trade mark is a sign that distinguishes the goods and services on one undertaking from all the others. It provides a guarantee that the goods and/or services are from a single undertaking, that is, that they belong to you. Most trade marks consist of words and/or logos but trade-mark legislation allows for any sign to be registered. Applications for trade marks can be made either electronically or on paper. In both cases, an official form must be completed. You must ensure that you apply for the correct mark because once the form has been completed it can not be amended.

The official fee is £200, which covers the application from one class of goods and/or services plus £50 for each additional class. Assistance is on hand for applicants who have any queries regarding any aspect of the application form.

From 1 October 2009, new reduced charges and initiatives will be coming into practice which will help businesses obtain trade marks quickly and at a lower cost. These initiatives include the ?right start? service, where you can defer half the £200 payment until after the application has been approved, and a £30 reduction for those who file for a trade mark online.

Once the official form has been received, the examination of trade mark applications normally takes three or four weeks to complete. If no objection is raised to your application it will be accepted. However, if objections are raised, these will be explained and the examiner will, wherever possible, suggest ways of overcoming them.

You may contact the examiner by post, telephone, fax or e-mail and discuss any objections raised. All applications, when deemed acceptable, will be advertised in the Trade Marks Journal. Once advertised, they are open to opposition by a third party for a period of up to three months. If no opposition is raised then formal registration will follow within a few weeks and you will receive your registration certificate.

It is important to note that of all applications filed, 95% proceed to advertisement and of those, only 5% are opposed. Additionally, many such oppositions are settled amicably by the parties involved. It is worth noting that the fee provides trade-mark protection for a period of 10 years. Renewal for a further 10 years is granted automatically, on application, for the same fee. There is no limit to the number of renewals that may be made as there is no limit to the period of registration. In fact, trade mark No 1 is still valid as it has been consistently renewed, ever since registration was first granted.

Finally, remember that if you wish to acquire trade mark rights in several European countries, you may prefer to file for a Community Trade Mark. This is more expensive, but it does provide registered rights throughout Europe.


Patents protect the features and processes that make things work. This lets inventors profit from their inventions.

A patent gives you the right to stop others from copying, manufacturing, selling, and importing your invention without your permission. The existence of your patent may be enough on its own to stop others from trying to exploit your invention. If it does not, it gives you the right to take legal action to stop them exploiting your invention and also to claim damages.

The patent also allows you to:

  • Sell the invention and all the intellectual property rights
  • License the invention to someone else but retain all the intellectual property rights
  • Discuss the invention with others in order to set up a business based around the invention.

You can ask the Intellectual Property Office to do a patent search for you for a charge. This option may useful if you need comprehensive search results to help make a decision on whether or not to pursue an application.

The cost of filing a UK patent is £200, made up of £30 for a preliminary examination, a £100 search fee and £70 for a substantial examination fee. As with trade marks, assistance is on hand for applicants who have any queries about the application form. Applications for patents can be made either electronically or on paper and on average take around two years to be granted. The maximum period for the process is four and a half years.

If a patent is granted, it must be renewed every year after the fifth year with an annual renewal fee. In most cases, you will be able to renew your patent for a maximum period of 20 years.


Design is all about the way an object looks: its shape, its visual all in the design. A registered design is a legal right that protects the overall visual appearance of a product in the geographical area you register it. The visual features that form the design include such things as the lines, contours, colours, shape, texture, materials and the ornamentation of the product which give it a unique appearance.

It costs £60 to apply to register a single design or the first design in any multiple application. Each additional design in any multiple application costs £40 per design. Publication of designs can, on request, be deferred for up to 12 months. If this is the preferred route, it costs £40 to apply to register a single design or the first design in any multiple application. Each additional design in any multiple application costs £20 per design. When publication is requested a further fee of £40 per design is payable. To keep registered designs in force, they must be renewed on the fifth anniversary of the registration date and every five years after that. Designs can be renewed up to a maximum of 25 years.


Copyright protects many types of work, from music and lyrics to photographs and knitting patterns. It protects:

  • Literary works, including novels, instruction manuals, computer programs, song lyrics, newspaper articles and some types of database, dramatic works, including dance or mime, musical works, artistic works, including paintings, engravings, photographs, sculptures, collages, architecture, technical drawings, diagrams, maps and logos
  • Layouts or typographical arrangements used to publish a work, for a book for instance
  • Recordings of a work, including sound and film, broadcasts of a work.

Copyright is an automatic right that exists as soon as the work is created. The length of copyright depends on the type of work. For example, the term of protection for literary, theatrical or musical works lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years from the end of the year in which they died. Both computer software and databases are covered by this.

In the case of written work, including computer software, databases, websites and photographic works, the author or creator is also the first owner of the copyright. The owner of copyright has the right to decide whether and how copyright work is to be used. Copyright, like any physical property, can be sold, licensed, inherited or used if the creator has given their permission. The only exception to this is where the work is made by an employee in the course of their employment. It is advisable that when a piece of work is created, records are kept on this process. In the event of any litigation this can act as useful evidence of how the work was created.

As a matter of course, any created works should carry the © symbol along with the creator?s/company name and the year of creation. While this does not give any additional protection, it does signal to others that the work is copyright and who owns the work.

Further tips on protecting your IP

Do your homework or face the consequences

Check that your idea is as ?unique? as you think it is. A simple internet search should be the first step ? do your research, make sure your product doesn?t already exist and check out the competition. You can also search online records at the Intellectual Property Office website ( You should be aware that if you infringe someone else?s intellectual property rights, legal action may be taken against you. If other parties infringe your IP, you have a legal recourse against them; this process can be made a lot simpler if you have registered your IP rights.

What happens if I don?t register my IP?

Intellectual property is a business asset, which like any other business asset needs to be carefully managed, protected and maximised.

For example, if you decide not to register your trade mark, you will need to rely on common law to protect your rights. This will require the filing of detailed evidence sufficient to establish your reputation in a court of law. This will take time and substantial resources which will not be directed where they should be ? your business. With possible appeals, the whole process may take years with the outcome always in doubt.

Third parties are entitled to register your trade mark and if they succeed they may offer to license it to you for a fee. They may offer to sell it to you for a fee. If you carry on trading, they may sue you for infringing their registered rights.

Don?t forget to update your registrations

As your logos, brand identity, packaging and products change, you need to make sure your IP registration is adapted to suit. Registered trade marks, designs and patents only apply to the specifics you detail in your registration, so if you make any major amends, you?ll need to make sure these are protected.

For more information, contact:
Tel: 0845 9 500 505

Added the 07 October 2009 in category Innovation UK Vol5-2

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