When it comes to the protection of intellectual property, the terms copyright, trademark and patent are used; often they are confused with one another and it can lead to issues at a later date if a product or brand is copied.

It’s crucial to use an expert such as London IP if a business has any intellectual property queries as they must be resolved before any problems lead to legal headaches so here is an explanation of each term and where they would be relevant.


Copyright law grants the creator of certain kinds of media the right to exercise control over how their work is used and distributed. Areas covered by copyright include:

  • Books
  • Music
  • Sound recording
  • Video
  • Software

As an example, copyright means it is illegal to take a piece of protected software and then make a copy for a friend, sell a copy, use or share the software on an in-house network (unless otherwise specified in the licence) or rent out the software to anyone else without permission.

In the UK, copyright is governed by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.


A trademark denotes originality. It’s used to differentiate and distinguish the products and services of one company from another. Trademarks are used in a number of ways including logos, slogans and words.

When a trademark is registered, it is assigned a class according to the specific type of goods or services it is. There are 45 different classes and it means that as long as a product can be deemed to be in a different class, it can be given the same name. Class names include vehicle, paint, chemicals, musical instruments, hand tools and wines and spirits. These classifications are international and named the ‘Nice’ system after the city in France where they were originally negotiated in 1957.

The laws for a trademark cover every aspect of originality and there are certain specific rules which must be adhered to; a trademark cannot include:

  • Commonly used surnames
  • Geographical names
  • Any implication of royal patronage

When a trade mark is registered, it protects the brand or name of the product and means that legal action can be taken against any person or company which copies or steals the brand without permission, including counterfeiters.


Patents are given for inventions. They give the inventor the legal right to stop anyone else making and selling the invention.

The protection of a patent means the invention becomes the intellectual property of the inventor, but care must be taken to apply for relevant geographical patents. One granted in the UK for example only stops others in the UK copying the invention; it doesn’t bar those in other parts of the world taking the invention as their own. Only by applying for patents to cover all countries can this possibility be stopped.

For a successful patent application to be granted, the invention has to:

  • Be new and never made public in any way before the date of the application
  • Have an inventive stage to the process
  • Have an industrial application

A patent will not be awarded if the invention is:

  • a discovery
  • theory (mathematical or scientific)
  • art, music or literary-related
  • presentation of information; a computer programme for example

Applying for the awarding and registration of the correct protection then is vital to ensure that brands, products and inventions are not copied or subject to theft. Talk to those with legal knowledge if you are in any doubt or if you feel your business may be at risk and you don’t currently have protection in place.