Protecting your intellectual property

  1. What is intellectual property?
  2. Types of intellectual property protection

If your business has created intellectual property – something that sets you apart from competitors and which can give you a major advantage in the market, you will most likely need to protect it. The following is a brief guide to intellectual property and how it can be protected, however it is recommended that you seek the advice of an experienced professional in the IP field to determine what is best for your own situation.

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property (IP) represents the property of your mind or intellect. In business terms, this means proprietary knowledge. IP is a business asset and like other business assets it should be identified and an appropriate value placed on it. Valuing your IP may help you obtain better access to finance and will almost certainly increase the value of your business. Ownership of intellectual property rights means you can sell licence or bequeath IP in much the same way as property.

Types of Intellectual property protection and where they are applied


Protects inventions such as new or improved products and processes.

To register a patent you must file an application with the patents office within IP Australia which will assess whether or not it is new and meets legislative requirements. Patents cover, generally, any device, substance, method or process which is new, inventive and useful.

Registered trademarks

Protects a letter, number, word, symbol, picture, sound, smell, shape, logo, aspect of packaging or a combination of these, which you use to distinguish your goods and services from your competitors.

Initial registration for a trademark lasts for 10 years. After that time you can continue to renew your registration for successive periods of 10 years on payment of the appropriate fee.

IP Australia has released a new educational tool, Trade Mark Assist.

The tool is designed to guide businesses through the trade mark application process; Trade Mark Assist can also help you to build a strong and enduring brand.

Specifically, you can use the tool to:

  • Search for a proposed trade mark
  • Search for existing trade marks that may be similar to your own
  • Identify the appropriate classes
  • Begin your own application

Click here to use the tool.

Registered designs

Protects the shape or appearance of your goods, but not their function.

Registered Designs are used to protect the visual appearance of manufactured products. A registered design gives you a legally enforceable right to use your product’s design to gain a marketing edge. It also prevents others from using the design without your agreement.

To be registered your design must be new or original. New means not known or previously seen in Australia. Original means it has never been applied to your product although it may have been applied to another type of product.


Protects artistic and literary works, computer programs and such things as engineering drawings.  Note that this protection is automatic and does not have to be applied for.

Copyright protects the original expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. It is free and automatically safeguards your original works of art, literature, music, films, broadcasts and computer programs from copying and certain other uses. Material is protected from the time it is first written down, painted or drawn, filmed or taped. Copyright owners from other countries are also protected.

Copyright protection is provided under the Copyright Act 1968 and gives exclusive rights to licence others in regard to copying the work, performing it in public, broadcasting it, publishing it and making an adaptation of the work. Rights vary according to the nature of the work.

Plant breeders’ rights

For new plant varieties.

Circuit layout rights protect, automatically, the three-dimensional configuration of electronic circuits and layout designs.

Trade secrets which protect know-how and other confidential information.

For more on protecting intellectual property