Copyright your invention? Patent your name? A guide to the jargon.

All professions have their jargon. We are no different in the IP field. And a subtle piece of jargon inserted there – “IP” meaning “Intellectual Property” of course. But what do the various terms mean and what do they mean to you?

“Intellectual Property”

This is the umbrella terms for the rights which we deal with. There are four main types, sometimes including some others depending on whom you talk to. They are: patents, trade marks, designs and copyright. Sometimes “confidential information” / “know-how” is included.

Their common factor is that they give the proprietor the right to prevent others from using them. There are some limited exceptions to this rule, to find out if your planned use falls into an exception contact us.

They are called property as they are property rights: they may be sold, leased (or “licensed”), mortgaged, etc just like any other type of property.

“Industrial Property”

Much the same as “intellectual property”, but generally excluding the artistic copyright for the more “industrial” rights. However, you do not need to be in industry to have a useful invention that may be patentable, or a trade mark to identify your goods and services. If in doubt, contact us.


Patents protect technical innovations – “inventions”. In order to achieve patent protection, the innovation must be new, non-obvious and capable of industrial application. The invention does not have to be a “eureka” moment and demonstrating that a new invention is not obvious is not as difficult as one may think. A patent has to be applied for – no-one is going to seek you out and give you one. Even if a patent is not ultimately gained, the application process itself can be beneficial by allowing you to properly state that your new product or process is “patent pending”. If in doubt, get in touch: patent protection may be right for you.

Patents granted by the UK Intellectual Property Office (the Patent Office) and the European Patent Office may also allow you to significantly reduce your corporation tax liability by the innovation-encouraging Patent Box tax regime.

“Trade Marks”

Trade Marks are unique branding features, the sort of features that help differentiate your products and services from those of your competitors. They may be names, logos, even the shapes of the products themselves or their packaging, or a colour that has become uniquely associated with your products and allows the consumer to choose your product over the others on the market.

By registering the Trade Mark you achieve the exclusive right to use that for your products or services and prevent others from using that Trade Mark or one so similar that the buying public may be confused into believing those goods or services come from you.


Designs protect the way products look. They can protect the shape or configuration of a product, or even more abstract items such as computer fonts and icons. Whilst some limited automatic rights come into place by simply creating a qualifying product, to bolster your protection you may formally register the design. Design registration can be straightforward, but professional assistance may prevent you from stumbling across pitfalls.


Copyright protects literary and artistic works, such as drawings, photographs, screenplays, novels, short stories. It protects against the copying of qualifying works only; independent creation, no matter how close, is not covered. Copyright protection comes about automatically in most cases, but in some countries provision for registration exists. It may be that your copyright work has some aspects protectable by other areas of intellectual property law.

“Confidential Information” / “Know-how”

Often not considered an intellectual property right since in various jurisdictions its not treated as a property right. Protected by a myriad of confidentiality agreements, non-disclosure agreements, they are trade secrets that owners do not wish to reveal. Its the COCA-COLA and IRN-BRU recipes, the GOOGLE algorithm, etc.

Some may be patentable, but a choice may have been made not to reveal the technology by filing a patent application. A patent lasts for a limited period of time and then the technology is open to all to use. A trade secret remains the exclusive “property” of its owner as long as its kept a secret.

Often products may have various intellectual property rights attached to it: your smartphone will have one or more Trade Marks (Apple, iPhone, BlackBerry, HTC, Nokia, etc), several patents covering its functionality such as the “slide to unlock feature”, design registration(s) covering its overall look and even the various app icons, and copyright protecting the 300-odd page user agreement that no-one reads.