What are IP rights and which rights do you have?

Intellectual property rights provide a business with competitive advantage in technology and knowledge focused markets, where companies battle to maintain an edge over their competition.

IP rights can be bought, sold, licensed and used as security for borrowing.

They can account for a significant portion of a business’ assets and may outperform tangible assets in terms of wealth and value creation. Some IP rights come into existence automatically as the work is done. Most must be applied for and registered, often within specific time limits. Some must be kept secret before the application is made.

Understanding which IP rights apply to your business and how to protect them is a key to success as your business grows. The table below summaries the different IP rights available in the UK and how they can be used to protect different types of technological and creative work product.

Work Product

Applicable IP rights


  • Patents protect novel inventions that can be used in a practical way. They are important to consider as they provide a monopoly right that can be used to recoup R&D investment over a period of exclusivity. To obtain protection patents need to be registered and must be kept secret before the application is filed.

  • Trade secrets include know-how and confidential information. Maintenance of trade secrets can be important to disciplines where there is significant know-how, for example, in manufacturing processes. Trade secrets can cover materials also protected by copyright and database rights. Trade secrets can be protected for as long as the information can be kept secret.

Documents, software, drawings and data

  • Copyright protects a wide range of content and materials such as documents, design drawings and software. It arises automatically on creation of original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works.
  • Design rights protect the appearance of a product. They are particularly important in consumer driven markets where the success of a product can depend on its physical appearance as much as its technical features. Some protection arises automatically through unregistered design rights, although stronger protection is often obtained by registering the design.
  • Database rights protect collections of data and are important where there has been significant investment made in collating, verifying the contents of a database.


  • Trade marks can be protected through registration or through actions for passing off. They are particularly important for consumer products or other businesses where the value of the brand may lie in a reputation for quality, safety or innovation.


Get in touch with Katie Tyndall or our wider IP team to discuss the different IP rights available for your business.