What forms of intellectual property are there?

by Redmans on October 15, 2012

This post addresses the basics of the law of intellectual property by outlining what forms of intellectual property exist under the law of England and Wales, how they’re defined, and what they’re useful for. This is only, as above, a basic guide and we recommend talking to an intellectual property solicitor, particularly if your intellectual property rights have been infringed or you wish to register a trademark. We’ll therefore take a look at the following types of intellectual property:

  1. Copyright
  2. Trademarks
  3. Patents
  4. Design rights


Copyright is a legal concept which gives exclusive rights in a work to the author, or creator, of the work. Copyright in England and Wales is protected by the Copyrights Patents and Designs Act 1988. There are two types of copyright:

  1. Classic copyright
  2. Entrepreneurial copyright

Classic copyright is the “normal” type of copyright – it protects literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works from being copied without an author’s express permission. Under s.16 CPDA 1988 the owner of the copyright has the exclusive right to do acts protected by the copyright, including (among others):

  • Copy the work
  • Issue copies of the work
  • Rent or lend the work to the public
  • Perform, show or play the work in public
  • Communicate the work to the public
  • Make an adaptation of the work

Copyright is normally infringed through one of three methods:

  1. Copying the work
  2. Making an adaptation of the work
  3. Giving a public performance of the work


A trademark is a “brand” – a simple way of communicating to others the fact that you made or are responsible for in some other way the good or service that is being provided. Trademarks are also legal concepts which give exclusive right to the owner of the trademark to use their particular trademark. Unauthorised use of a trademark can give way to a claim for trademark infringement or a claim for passing off. Trademarks are protected from infringement by the Trade Mark Act 1994. Passing off is a common law claim.

So, what can potentially be a trademark? A trademark can be a name, label, slogan or a piece of distinctive packaging. Slogans, designs, letters, numerals, internet domain names and smells are all capable of trademark protection.


A patent is (fairly obviously) a form of intellectual property. It allows the creators of new inventions to protect their products from being copied, used, imported or sold without their permission. Patents are protected under the Patents Act 1977. Under this Act anything which is new, inventive and capable of being made or used in an industry qualifies for protection under the Patents Act 1977.

Design rights

A Registered Design is a legal concept which protects the visual appearance of the whole or a part of a product from being infringed in the country or countries that it is registered in. Unlike copyright or patent protection, design rights protect the way a thing looks instead of what it is or does. Registering your design allows you to prevent other from creating designs which are overly similar to your protected design.

Redmans are intellectual property solicitors based in Richmond, London.

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