Understanding intellectual property

Understanding intellectual property

Intellectual property (IP) represents the property or creations of your mind or intellect. If you develop a new product, service, process or idea it belongs to you and is considered your IP. You must formally register your IP to ensure legal ownership.

IP can be a valuable business asset so you need to understand it and protect it. IP Australia provides detailed information including informative short videos on their YouTube Channel.

TIP: IP protection in Australia does not extend to other countries. You must apply for international protection separately and in each country where you want your IP to be protected.

Top 5 tips for new businesses

1. Start early

Include IP considerations when developing your business plan.

2. Consider trademarks

A trademark and a business name are two different things. Registering a business name doesn’t give you exclusive rights over that name.

3. Take responsibility

It is up to you to manage and renew your IP registration.

4. Avoid publicising your idea

You may not be able to get a patent if you have discussed, demonstrated or sold your creation. If you need to discuss your idea with other people make sure they sign a confidentiality agreement.

5. IP is for everyone

IP protection is available to anyone, regardless of business size.

Types of IP protection

There are seven types of IP protection including plant breeder’s rights, circuit layout rights and confidentiality/ trade secrets. Most businesses use these four - patents, trademarks, designs and copyright.

Specific information for each protection is available through IP Australia.


A patent is a right granted for any device, substance, method or process which is:

  • new
  • innovative, and
  • useful

A patent gives the owner the exclusive right to the invention for a period of time and can be legally enforced.

TIP:You should not disclose or promote your idea to anyone without first applying for a patent as this may affect your chances of having it registered.


A trademark is used to distinguish the goods and services of one business from those of another.

A trademark can be a letter, number, word, phrase, sound, smell, shape, logo, picture and/or an aspect of packaging

It is not compulsory to register a trademark, however it is important to consider if you want to retain exclusive rights to its use.

TIP: Registering a business, company or domain name is not the same as trademarking it and may not provide you with exclusive rights or ownership of the name.


A design refers to the features of shape, configuration, pattern or ornamentation which give a product a unique appearance and must be new and distinctive in order to be registered.

A registered design allows the owner to use it for commercial purposes, to licence or sell it.

Registered designs tend to relate to form whilst patents relate to function.


Copyright is a free and automatic legal right given to the authors or creators of original works. You can copyright works but not ideas.

Copyright is commonly applied to:

  • music
  • sound recordings
  • art
  • books
  • films
  • on and off-line publications

Computer programs and databases may also be copyright protected.

In Australia, copyright is overseen by the Department of Communications and the Arts. For more information on copyright visit the Australian Copyright Council.

More information