What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual Property Office
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Jane Lambert 

7 Aug 2016

Intellectual property ("IP") is the collective name for the bundle of rights that protect investment in branding, design, technology and works of art and literature. These include patents (monopolies of a new invention), trade marks (the exclusive right to use a sign in relation to specified goods or services), copyrights (exclusive rights to reproduce, publish, rent, lend, perform, communicate or adapt works of art or literature) and unregistered design right (the exclusive right to make an article to a design).

Some of those rights are statutory.  Patent law is codified by the Patents Act 1988, trade mark law by the Trade Marks Act 1994, copyright law by Part I of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and unregistered design law by Part III of that Act. Others such as the law of confidence or the action for passing off are common law or judge made rights which have developed through a long succession of cases.

Some of those rights apply only to the UK. Others such as the European Union trade mark, the Community design and the Community plant variety right apply throughout the European Union including the UK for so long as we remain a member.

Patents, trade marks, registered designs and plant breeders' rights take effect upon registration and in the case of patents and trade marks extensive examination of applications for trade marks. The body that registers patents, trade marks and designs for the United Kingdom is the Intellectual Property Office ("IPO") in Newport. The European Union Intellectual Property Office ("EUIPO") in Alicante registers EU trade marks and registered Community designs. Patents for the UK and a number of other countries can also be granted by the European Patent Office ("EPO") in Munich on behalf of Her Majesty's Government ("HMG") and the governments of the other contracting parties. The EPO is not an EU institution and although patents granted by the EPO are known as European patents they do not as yet extend beyond national boundaries.

HMG is party to a number of international agreements in relation to IP of which the most important are the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property ("Paris") and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works ("Berne"). The body that administers those agreements is the World Intellectual Property Organization ("the WIPO") which is a specialist agency of the United Nations.

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