Your guide to intellectual property

Intellectual property (IP) refers to intangible assets that are unique creations of a person, group of people, or a business.

The term can cover almost anything from logos and slogans to screenplays and paintings.

You can protect these creations from being used by others without your express consent – this protection is often called your intellectual property right(s).

The form of protection will depend on what exactly you create.

While we also have in-depth guides on the subject, here’s a brief introduction to help you get to grips with the very basics of these IP rights.

You may be surprised to discover just how many of them you are creating within your business, the value that they represent to you and/or how frequently they arise.

You might also be surprised to learn just how many commercial opportunities you might be missing out on, by not protecting or not properly permitting others to make use of them.

And don’t forget that your PR and commercial reputation, perceived future investment potential and prospects of attracting great talent, may all be positively influenced, or negatively impacted, by how responsibly you evidence the protection and value of what you’ve created.

This is where our more detailed guides can help you out.

But for now, let’s take a quick look at what sort of intellectual property you’re likely to encounter in your business…




What is it?

A right to protect original artistic, dramatic, musical, or written work from being copied, altered, or distributed without the copyright owner’s permission

How to get it?

Normally, the legal right is automatically granted to the author/creator when the original work is first created.

If, however, the author/creator has been commissioned by someone else to create the work (e.g. a business contracts a designer to produce some material for the business to use), the terms of the contract between them are likely to stipulate that the owner of the work is the business, not the designer who authors it and that the business has exclusive ownership of those designs.

It’s also essential that the work is original (not copied, in whole or in any part) and that it is recorded in some way.

Simply having an idea, without having manifested that idea in some recordable format, is not sufficient for a copyright to arise.

Where is the copyright visible?

Technically, it doesn’t need to be visible, because a copyright doesn’t need any form of registration to take effect and to be legally enforceable.

But to ensure that the position of ownership is clear, you’ll often find the © mark attached to published works.

Signatures on paintings and other creative materials also help to make the authorship position clear.

Many creators will take sensible extra measures to assert their ownership and to deter any infringers, such as using a copyright notice alongside the content they’ve created, securely storing a date/time stamped original copy somewhere, to prove they produced the protectible work first; or, if they’re licensing the work to others, drawing attention to a registration notice (confirming their rights in the work) from a copyright licensing agency (often relevant to books and music).

Check out our guide on writing a copyright notice to find out more

How long does the protection last?

According to the government’s website (link here) the length of the copyright depends on the type of work.

  • Written, dramatic, musical, and artistic works: 70 years after the author’s death
  • Layout of published editions of written, dramatic, or music works: 50 years from first published date
  • Sound and music recordings: 70 years from first publish date
  • Films: 70 years after the death of the director, screenwriter, and composer
  • Broadcasts: 50 years from first broadcast date
  • Design: 70 years after the creator’s death
  • Computer-generated works: 70 years from date it is first made available to the public

If the author later assigns or licences the right to the copyright to someone else, the period of copyright protection always stays the same.

How far does the protection extend?

While copyright is automatically valid in Ireland, these international conventions may mean that your work is protected in other countries too.

Usually, these copyrights are valid for 25 years for photography and 50 years for written, dramatic, and artistic work.

Take a look at these guides for more information:




What is it?

A company’s trading identity-related intellectual property, such as its logo, slogan, or brand name.

The legal protection contains a right to prevent it – or something confusingly similar to it – from being used by other companies for the same, or confusingly similar, uses.

Where is the trademark visible?

On your trademark registration certificate and on the public registry of trademarks at the IPOI.

Many businesses also record a small ™ sign alongside a mark that they have applied to be protected and an ® sign when the mark has in fact been registered and is protected.

How long does the protection last?

As long as you use it within 5 years of registration, and continue to use it appropriately, you must renew your trademark every 10 years.

How far does the protection extend?

Trademarks registered in Ireland are only protectable in Ireland.

However, you can get protection in other markets by registering the trademark in different countries.

Guides to more information:


Design Right


What is it?

The protection of a product’s aesthetic features from being copied, including its shape, packaging and decoration.

How to get it?

A basic level of design right is automatically granted to the designer, but you can protect different types of design more securely by registering them with the Intellectual Property Office of Ireland (IPOI).

Again, as with copyright, the ownership of the design will not lodge with the author/creator of the design, where they have been commissioned to produce the design and the commissioning agreement contains terms that assign the ownership to the commissioning business.

Where is the design right visible?

On the official list of registered designs at the IPOI.

Unlike copyrighted and trademarked works, there is no equivalent symbol to indicate that a design is registered.

Often the word ‘registered’ is used alongside any reference to the product and its registered number may also be featured.

We’d always encourage you to make your rights to your designs clear, so that there can never be any confusion about what you own and how close anyone else can get to emulating it.

How long does the protection last?

After registering, your design right will last for 25 years – however you can simply renew it if you’d like to keep it.

How far does the protection extend?

The application process above relates to Irish-valid design rights; however, it’s possible to protect your design (whether registered or not) internationally if required.

You may have an automatic unregistered design right in Europe – but this is only valid for 3 years and offers less protection than a registered one.

To get a registered design right in the EU (a Registered Community Design), you can research and apply through the European Union Intellectual Property Office.

If you need to protect your design right further afield, you can apply directly with each country you require design right protection in – you can find the relevant details here.

Or, if you need to apply to a number of countries, you can do so with one application with the Hague System.




What is it?

The protection of an innovative invention (such as an item of equipment, or a tool) or an innovative technological process from being copied.

The protected item or process must be genuinely innovative and kept secret.

If it’s not innovative and not a secret, it will not qualify for patent protection.

So, keep your IP and confidentiality, especially when communicating with others, really, really tight.

This is where a confidentiality agreement (or NDA) really comes into its own.

To find out more take a look at our guide on when confidential information can be disclosed under an NDA

Where is the patent protection visible?

On your patent approval certificate and on the register of patents at the IPOI also.

There is also no symbol to use for indicating that a product is patented.

You may see the sign (P) from time to time, but that, confusingly, denotes copyright in a sound recording!

Instead, you’ll often see the words ‘patents pending’ where a patent is being applied for.

Sometimes, the patent application number or publication number and country details may be included close by as well.

Once the patent is registered, the word ‘patented’ is generally used alongside reference to the product.

It’s highly advisable to use these words alongside your product, to ensure you’ve got the best change of enforcing your rights if someone infringes them.

How long does the protection last?

Irish patents, in common with most jurisdictions, have a maximum life span of 20 years.

Ireland also offers a “short-term” patent, valid for a maximum of 10 years.

You must renew your patent on the 3rd anniversary of its filing date and then each year after that if you wish to keep it.

How far does the protection extend?

Patents registered in Ireland will only be valid in Ireland.

But you can apply for patent protection across or within the EU through the European Patent Office (EPO).

For international patent protection, you can apply with a Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) application, which enables you to apply for a patent in over 145 countries with just one application.

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