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Intellectual Property - A Simple Introduction

Intellectual Property - A Simple Introduction (1)

Intellectual Property (IP) is a product of mental effort and human creativity to which rights are capable of being protected under national and international laws. Under these laws, the owners of the IP are granted exclusive rights over the property, usually for a specified period of time. These rights are known as intellectual property rights (IPRs).

Types Of Intellectual Property 

The most common types of IPRs are patents, trademarks, industrial design rights and copyright.


Patents grant exclusive rights to make, use, license or sell an invention for a specific period of time. In order for a patent to be granted, the invention must be capable of industrial application.

The scope of inventions that can be patented is broad and includes:

  • New products or improvements to existing products;
  • New processes or improvements to existing processes in manufacturing; and
  • Improvements to computer technology. 


Trademarks are concerned with brand identity and may include distinctive signs, designs or expressions which distinguish a brand or product.

Industrial Design Rights

Industrial design rights confer exclusive rights over the visual design or appearance of a product which may include the shape, configuration, contours, texture or combination and configuration of patterns and colours.


Copyright applies to authors or creators of certain categories of expressive materials. These include literary, musical and artistic works, software, original databases, paintings, photographs and media broadcasts. The holder of the copyright may benefit from royalty payments through licensing agreements. 

IP also includes other less common IPRs such as trade dress, trade secrets and protection of plant varieties.

Intellectual Property Protection

Protection of IP is covered globally by many international conventions which are implemented by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). 

In the EU, the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM) is responsible for the registration of community trademarks and designs. European patents are granted by the European Patent Office (EPO).

Alternatively, applicants may register their IP at the national offices of one or more countries. In Ireland for example, IPRs are granted by and monitored by the Irish Patents Office.

Copyright Protection

In most jurisdictions, there is no registration procedure for the owners of copyright work. Instead, copyright protection automatically exists from the time that the work is created. It is important however that the creator of the work makes it known that they have copyright over the work and the date that the copyright was created. For example, ‘© Pearse Trust, 2013.’ 

Benefits For Business

If managed correctly, IP protection may benefit business in the following ways:

  • Preventing competitors from copying or closely imitating new products, processes and innovations;
  • Creating a distinct corporate brand identity;
  • Increasing the value of the business as IP can be a valuable asset of the business;
  • Gaining a distinct competitive advantage in the marketplace;
  • Benefiting from profitable licensing agreements;
  • Raising capital from investors attracted by the enhanced competitive edge or asset value;
  • Business may invest in IP by purchasing the rights to innovations without the high cost of research and development; and
  • Avoiding conflicts over breach of rights.

Success Through Innovation

It is important that businesses recognise, protect, manage, and exploit the value of their IP assets in the same way that they protect their physical assets. By integrating these intangible assets into their business strategy, forward-looking businesses can gain a distinct competitive advantage and enhance their commercial success through innovation. 

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