Published on October 17, 2019 by Lauren Wade

Intellectual property rights

Intellectual Property (IP) Law is a specialist area of law concerning the rights and protection of intellectual property which can include anything from inventions and unique product designs to creative works and computer programs.

Whether you are interested in practising as an IP solicitor or barrister, or you are just interested to learn more, read about intellectual property rights and other terms you should know.


Copyright is an intellectual property right that protects artistic creations such as literary works, art and photography, personal letters, film and TV, to name a few. Copyright is an automatic protection and may protect the IP for up to 70 years after the death of the owner.

The official sign to indicate copyright is ©, however, this does not have to be in place for protection to arise. It is advised that work is documented and dated to ensure evidence of ownership in the case that a dispute arises.

While copyright offers protection of the work from others using or copying it, it does not protect against the idea itself. For example, a book itself would be protected under copyright, but the ideas behind the story would not be.

Database rights

These are a form of copyright created by section 13 of The Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997. For this purpose, they are treated as a class of literary works and must be original (in their arrangement and selection of work) for copyright protection to arise. Unlike many other copyrights, this protection has a duration of 15 years from the end of the year in which the database was completed and made available for use.

Performers’ rights

Performers’ rights another category of copyright that protect performances in numerous ways. They can be distinguished into ‘non-property’ and ‘property’ rights. The former offers protection from the recording and/or live-broadcasting of the performance by another without the performer’s consent. On the other hand, the latter protects their performance from being recorded and copies of which being distributed.

Moral rights

These are intellectual property rights that the author of a work of copyright has in isolation of the economic rights. For instance, in the case of an artist’s work, they would have moral rights over the use of it not being derogatory or damaging. 

Design rights

Offering protection of the appearance (whether that‘s the shape, colour or something else) of a product or part of a product. Design rights arise automatically and protection is currently given at both UK and EU levels for differing timescales. 

Designs can also be protected through registration of the right and this provides stricter protection for up to 25 years. The fashion industry often uses these intellectual property rights as the financial cost of the process is relatively low and the design of a piece of clothing is fundamental to the product’s success.


Trademarks can be a product or brand name, an image or logo, packaging or even the unique shape or colouring of a product. Currently, persons can apply for either a UK or an EU trademark, both last for ten years and are renewable.

To register a trademark, the IP in question must satisfy the following criteria: it is capable of being represented visually; it is distinctive; it distinguishes goods or services, and it is not excluded by statute.

In the UK, one may also have unregistered trademark rights through the law of passing off. Essentially this protects the goodwill of a trader from misrepresentation and establishes obligations that prevent one individual trading their goods as if they were another’s or as having a connection with another when this is not the case.

The law of passing off was established to not only protect the individual’s IP, but also to avoid public deception when trading or buying products.


These are some of the most financially costly and timely protection to acquire. However, for those inventing new products, technical features or innovative processes, patents provide monopoly rights over their invention and last for 20 years in the UK. The application to register a patent is long and can take up to five years and so clients are likely to need advice early on in their invention’s production journey.

Patents are used heavily in the pharmaceutical and life sciences sector, where products have been extensively researched and tested for years before they come to market, often with a great deal of financial investment at stake.


Infringement is an act that conflicts with the right itself. The particulars of infringing different intellectual property rights can be found in the relevant legislation. Where parties wish to financially benefit from their particular IP rights, a licence essentially provides the other party permission to do so. In a licence agreement, you will find the terms “Licensor” and “Licensee” used to define the two parties. In the circumstance that a person infringes on your IP rights, the courts may offer a solution in the form of injunctions, damages or court orders to return any infringing copies.

Confidential information

This is commercially sensitive material that is not publicly known. You might have noticed in an employment contract a clause which deals with the protection of the business’ confidential information, whether this is information on clients or products.

These are not, in the strict sense, intellectual property rights, but may be established in a similar way to protect information that may potentially damage the business if the information was shared. When businesses are sold or licence agreements are made between parties, due diligence requests from the purchaser may ask for confidential information, so protections must be in place.

Confidentiality agreements

These agreements offer contractual protection against the disclosure of confidential information. Parties may wish to put these in place to provide formal and legally-binding obligations when exchanging confidential information. Sometimes, these may be referred to as non-disclosure agreements.


Know-how describes information in the technology sector and can take the form of data, research or prototypes. Due to the nature of know-how comprising of a variety of intellectual property rights, confidentiality agreements are normally put in place to provide legal certainty when dealing with purchasing, selling or licensing it.

Words: Freya Oldaker

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