Intellectual property (IP) is an exclusive right for creations of the mind which are ‘new’ or ‘original’.

In business terms, this also means your organisation’s proprietary knowledge. IP can be an extremely valuable asset that may be bought, sold or licensed, just like other assets.

The most common forms of IP are:

  • Patents — A patent is a legally enforceable monopoly right, granted by a government. Patents protect new or improved products, processes or methods. For example, a computer programmer who develops a new operating system, or an engineer who creates a new car part, household or personal appliance.
  • Trade marks — A ‘sign’ used to distinguish goods or services in the course of trade. This may include letters, words, names, signatures, numerals, logos, brands, aspects of packaging, shapes, colours, sounds or scents. Protection may be acquired through use of an unregistered trade mark, but registration provides broader and more certain protection. Examples of well-known trade marks include the Coca-Cola logo, McDonald’s yellow ‘M’ and Cadbury’s trade mark for the colour purple on chocolate.
  • Registered designs — Protect the visual appearance of a product including shape, configuration, pattern and/or ornamentation. Registration is required for protection. For example, Apple’s iconic iPod.
  • Copyright — Automatically protects ‘original’ creative, intellectual, or artistic work. Registration is not required for protection. For example, motion pictures and songs.
  • Domain names — An internet address consisting of a string of alphanumeric characters and dashes separated by periods. For example,
  • Trade secret/confidential information — Information not publicly disclosed that can be kept secret. This is of limited value if the secret can be revealed by reverse-engineering. Registration is not required for protection.
  • Plant breeder’s rights — Protects new plant varieties. Registration is required for protection
  • Circuit layouts — Layout designs for integrated circuits and computer chips. Registration is not required for protection.

Why is IP important?

Protecting and managing your intellectual property (IP) is critical when establishing your product or service in the market. IP provides a competitive advantage for your business, product or service, and can be the difference between success and failure. As an important element of your business strategy, IP can distinguish a business from its competitors, and provide valuable licensing and manufacturing potential.

IP provides a wide range of advantages, including:

  • Competitive first mover advantage.
  • Effective brand protection.
  • Product development protection.
  • Ease of product and service valuation.

IP should be secured prior to disclosing your idea to others, as once the idea has been disclosed, it is often no longer possible to obtain IP protection. In choosing not to protect your product or service, your idea or invention may be breaching another registered IP, which can result in lawsuits and financial penalties.