What is Intellectual Property?

What is Intellectual Property

What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property (IP) is a term that refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions and artistic and literary works. IP also covers names, designs and symbols used in commerce.

The aim of protecting intellectual property is to strike a balance between protecting the interests of its creators and the wider benefits to the public.

In Australia, IP is protected in law by means such as copyright, trade mark, patent and industrial design protection.


Copyright refers to the legal rights creators have over their literary and artistic works. It covers a wide range of areas, from books, paintings and films to computer programs and databases.

The work must be original, be in a material (not theoretical) form, and must originate from the author. Copyright is infringed if there is an element of copying involved, albeit directly or indirectly. Copyright does not protect its holder if another author arrives independently at the same body of work.

Copyright law generally lasts for the author’s lifetime plus seventy (70) years.


Patent protection can be applied to a wide range of inventions, from mechanical devices through to microbial processes, such as the preparation of cheeses. There are limits on what can be patented, for example, you can’t patent human beings, artistic creations, some military inventions or mental processes.

For a patent to be granted, the invention must be shown to be novel, inventive or innovative and useful. A patent gives the exclusive right to commercially exploit an invention while the patent is valid. The owner also has the right to stop other parties exploiting their invention without their consent.

Patents are only valid in the country or region where the patent has been filed and granted. The patent application process can be complicated and expensive. In Australia, a standard patent is valid for twenty years, an innovation patent for eight years and a pharmaceutical patent for twenty five years from the date of filing.

Trade marks

A trade mark can be a sign, letter, number, symbol or similar that enables the product of one enterprise to be differentiated from another and is an important tool in marketing and protecting your business.

A trade mark can be used exclusively by its owner or licensed to other parties. A registered trade mark is legally enforceable under IP law. For example, the golden arch of McDonalds or the Nike ‘tick’ are trade marks.

Trade marks can be registered in Australia only or applications may be filed to gain protection internationally, either to individual countries or to several concurrently via the Madrid protocol. In Australia, trade marks are valid for ten years, and can be renewed every ten years.

Industrial Design

A design refers to new and distinctive aesthetic characteristics of a product which has an industrial or commercial use. For example, a design could be a two dimensional feature such as fabric pattern, or three dimensional, such as the shape of a uniquely designed cutlery handle.

Design registration protects the appearance of a product, not its function. The process incurs a fee and is valid for up to ten years.

Useful website: IP Australia at http://www.ipaustralia.gov.au