What is intellectual property (IP)?


You’ve heard that every successful company has it and even some successful people have it and use it for their benefit.

But what is intellectual property (IP), why would you want it, and how do you get it? Let’s explain.

While property such as your house, car or phone, are physical tangible assets, IP is the intangible stuff you can’t touch or see such as your ideas, name or brand.

Legal protection

IP rights (IPRs) are the legal mechanisms provided to protect IP. The key IPRs are patents, trade marks, designs, copyright and trade secrets. However, IPRs cover more peripheral protection such as confidential information and domain names. Let’s consider the key IPRs now in a little more detail.


Patents give you exclusivity to an idea or an advancement in technology – where would Dyson be today if every other company’s vacuum cleaner could use its bagless technology?

Trade marks

Trade marks provide a guarantee over the origin of goods or services by use of an exclusive name or indication of origin. Apple Inc. fought hard to stop The Beatles’ Apple Records use the “Apple” brand. Would Apple Inc. be a major player in the music industry without the exclusivity that they fought so hard to protect?

Trade secrets

The idea of keeping information confidential within an organisation can be powerful. Coca-Cola are unlikely to have had such a stronghold over their market had their recipe not been kept a trade secret.


Designs protect the way products look – think of the shape of an Aston Martin or the casing of an iPad. They can even protect the visual layout of websites or software.


Copyright protects more artistic things: photos, books, films, paintings, as well as less artistic but just as commercially relevant content including computer code, sales brochures and website content.

Hopefully you now have a feel for what IP is, what different IPRs are available for protecting your IP and why they could be of value.

Answer last updated: 17 Jan 2018