Advertise Your Law Firm
Your law firm must be listed with the SRA to be included.
Request Inclusion

What Is Intellectual Property Law?

Intellectual property rights are used to protect the names of brands and products or services, a product design, written or spoken words, inventions, and other things that have been physically created. There are several ways to protect intellectual property, including patents, copyrights, and trade marks. Some of these protections are applied automatically, but some must be applied for and granted. For instance, copyright protects written words automatically, but a trade mark must be registered with the Intellectual Property Office.

Note that in legal terms, there’s a difference between ideas and intellectual property. If you have an idea for a book, for example, that isn’t something you can protect under intellectual property law. However, if you write a book based on your idea, the words themselves are intellectual property and are protected under copyright law.

Processes Involved In Protecting Intellectual Property

Trade marks

In order to be eligible for registration, a trade mark must be unique, with any combination of unique words, colours, sounds, or logos. It must be truthful—for instance, it can’t make any false claims—and can’t include any offensive content, descriptive content, or representative three-dimensional shapes.

Before registering a trade mark, you must perform a search on existing trade marks to make sure yours is unique. If you find any trade marks that are similar to yours, you must either alter your trade mark, or receive written permission to register your trade mark from the owner of the existing one.

You can apply for a trade mark online at the Intellectual Property Office, or apply by postal application. To apply, you must provide details about what you want to trade mark, permission from any existing trade mark holders, and choose which goods and services classes you want to register your trade mark under.

After you apply, you’ll typically get feedback within three weeks. If there are no objections to your application, it’s published in the Trade Marks Journal for two months. If there are no objections after that time your trade mark is registered. If there are any objections, you must withdraw or defend your application.


In intellectual property law, a design refers to the way a product looks—its appearance, decoration, shape, and configuration. The process of registering a design is somewhat similar to that of registering a trade mark. First you must search registers of protected designs to ensure your design is unique, and then prepare supporting details and documents to accompany your application.

Once the Intellectual Property Office has reviewed your application your design is either registered or rejected. If your design is rejected you have two months in which to appeal the decision, and ask for a hearing.


Patents are used to protect inventions, and give you the right to take legal action against anyone who uses your invention without your permission. In order to qualify for a patent, an invention must be something that can be made or used, and must be truly inventive, and not just a modification of an existing item or process.

Note that some things can’t be patented regardless of how inventive they are. For instance, works of music or art, methods of medical treatment, and scientific theories, cannot be patented.

The process of applying for a patent is expensive, lengthy, and complicated, costing around £4,000 with a time-frame of up to 5 years. To apply for a patent you must first search for similar patents, to ensure your invention is both new and unique enough to warrant a patent. Next, you prepare and file a patent application. At the same time, you must request that the Intellectual Property Office perform an additional patent search to confirm your invention qualifies for patenting, plus a substantive examination which checks all the particulars of your application and the invention. If your invention doesn’t meet the legal definition required for a patent you’ll be given a chance to solve any problems. If you are granted a patent, you must renew it on a regular basis, and may also need to be prepared to defend your patent if your invention is used without your permission.


Unlike patents and trade marks, copyright is applied automatically to anything that is written, printed, and recorded, as soon as it is created. The owner of the copyright has the right to control who uses their work and how, and the right to be recognised as the creator of the work. They also have a number of assignable rights, which can be transferred to another person or organisation. For instance, someone who writes a book or play can sell the rights to make a film adaptation.

The protection that copyright provides is limited; after a certain period of time, the work enters the public domain, which means it can be copied, adapted, or otherwise used without penalty. For instance, the works of authors such as Jane Austen and William Shakespeare are in the public domain, and anyone can publish versions of those works, or use the characters in new ones.

How Can A Solicitor Help?

The processes associated with registering a trade mark, design, or patent can be complex and time-consuming. In particular, the lengthy and stringent approval process for patent applications means that it’s often useful to get legal help in preparing the application, even though it’s not required by law. Law firms that provide intellectual property legal services or a patent specialist can help you prepare your application and perform a range of other important tasks. For instance, they can:

  • Help you determine what kind of intellectual property protection you need to apply for.
  • Perform or arrange for searches of the relevant registries.
  • Contact holders of existing trade marks or designs to ask for permission to register yours.
  • Help you prepare your application and gather the supporting documents you need to provide with your application.
  • If your application is rejected, help you determine whether to appeal, modify your intellectual property, or halt the application process.
  • If you decide to appeal a decision a solicitor can help you prepare for the hearing, and represent you.