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Vital Information: Patents, Copyright, Trademarks, Reg Design

There are four main forms of intellectual property protection:

  • Patent – this protects the functionality of a product
  • Registered Design – this protects the external appearance of a product
  • Trademark – this protects the name or logo of a product, company or business
  • Copyright – this predominantly protects oral, audio, art and written material and also applies to some software and computer programs

What you need to know:


A patent protects the functionality of the product: how it works and its application.

In order to be deemed patentable a product must be:

  • Novel
  • Inventive
  • Unobvious

…and fit into one of the following categories:

  • new technology
  • an improvement upon existing technology
  • a new combination of existing technology.

Patents can take between 18months and 4½ years to be granted but...
As soon as you have filed your patent application no one globally can file the same application and it be granted.

Patents last a maximum of 20 years, provided you maintain your annual renewal fees

Patents stop anyone producing your product within the country you hold a patent

There is no such thing as a worldwide patent.

The most far reaching patent you can obtain is the PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) which covers you in 142 countries globally, other grouped options include the EPC (European Patent Convention) covering the majority of Europe and some extension states.

Patent law can vary from country to country so it is important to see a patent attorney when applying outside the UK to make sure you are applying correctly.

In some countries, what the UK know to be a patent would be referred to as a Utility Patent.

Registered Design

A registered design protects the external shape and design of a product and this can be extended to include: lines, contours, colours, shape, texture, materials and the ornamentation

Registered designs can also be applied for to protect patterns

In order to be registered a design must be deemed new and original

You cannot register a design that includes a national emblem, flag or official symbol

Registered designs last a maximum of 25 years, provided you maintain 5-yearly renewal fees

The most common design registration application is a Community Registered Design, which covers over 30 European countries.

In some countries, including USA, a registered design is known as a Design Patent or an Industrial Design registration

There is an International Registration of Industrial Designs known as the Hague Agreement, but this only covers countries that adhere to the registered design laws and not design patents, therefore does not include the USA.


Trademarks protect logos, symbols or names of products or businesses.

Trademarks can have appeared in the public domain for any length of time before registering and therefore do not have to be deemed 'new' but must still be seen to be 'original' in relation to the branding of your company

Trademarks cannot be protected if they describe the product or company with which they are affiliated ie. 'Good Wine'

Trademarks can last indefinitely but must be renewed every 10 years to be kept in force

You can also apply for a Community Trademark, similarly to the Community Registered Design and covering the same geographical area.

Also similar to registered designs, there is an international trademark application known as the Madrid Agreement.


Copyright applies to any original work of literature, manuscript, artwork, music, oral, audio or recording.

Computer programs, databases and websites can also be protected by copyright, if original.

Copyright is an automatic right and does not require any formal form of registration to be applied to your work.

Copyright does not protect concepts or ideas affiliated with the work but just the work itself ie. the copyright on Lord of the Rings does not prohibit the re-use of plots or storylines relating to Hobbits/infinite power-bearing rings etc. but just the physical written work ie. the particular words in that particular order.

Copyright stops others from copying, adapting, distributing, renting or performing that particular work without prior permission from the author.

For most articles, Copyright lasts until 70 years after the death of the author.

For films, Copyright lasts until 70 years after the death of the last surviving director, author of film script or composer of the music specially created for the film.

Generally speaking, material created in the UK will also be protected overseas, due to the UK's membership of several international conventions.

To enforce Copyright it is important to put the © symbol on any material you wish to protect.

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