What is intellectual property?

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Intellectual property (IP) is a property right established in law to exclude others from using, without authorisation, your intellectual creations. IP rights allow you to commercialise and exploit your innovative and creative ideas. IP rights consist of:

  • patents, which protect innovative technical solutions in all lines of industry,
  • copyrights, which protect original intellectual creations in the creative arts,
  • trademarks, which protect distinctive marks indicating a product’s business origin,
  • designs, which protect the visual appearance of the product.

Beyond these formal IP rights, businesses may also opt for protection of their own confidential information from misappropriation by keeping it a trade secret. 

left col
image of badge PATENTS
image for copyright COPYRIGHTS
image for design DESIGNS*
image for trademarks TRADEMARKS
image for trade secrets TRADE SECRETS
What do they protect?

An invention: a new and innovative way of doing something, or solving a technical problem

See also:
WIPO - FAQsEuropean Commission - Patent protection in the EUEuropean IP Helpdesk - Your Guide to IP in Europe

A work: an original intellectual creation

See also:
WIPO - Copyright BasicsEuropean IPR Helpdesk - Copyright EssentialsUS PTO - Copyright Basics

A new and original visual appearance of a product

See also:
WIPO - What is an industrial designEUIPO - Design DefinitionEU Commission - Industrial Design Protection

Distinctive signs that identify brands of products/services

Any type of useful information for business that is secret and kept confidential

See also:
EU Commission - Trade SecretsEuropean IPR Helpdesk

Examples of what is protected

Inventive products and processes in all lines of business

For examples of successful inventions by SMEs

See also:
European Patent Office - SME case studies

Audio-visual works, pictures, graphics, architecture, databases, software, designs, literature, novels, poems, plays, music and video, dramatic works

Packages, containers, furnishings, graphic symbols, computer icons, typefaces, graphical user interfaces, logos and maps

More on designs:
EUIPO - Examples of designs

Words, personal names, designs, letters, numerals, colours, shapes, packaging, sounds

More on TMs:
EUIPO - Trademark definition

See also:
WIPO - What is a trademarkEU Commission - Trademark protection in the EU

Any confidential information: business methods, customer lists, R&D data, financial information, cooking recipes, software, datasets, know-how, algorithms

More on trade secrets:
European IPR Helpdesk

How are my rights protected?Prevents unauthorised making, using or selling of the patented invention

Prevents the work being(without authorisation) copied, published, distributed or made available online

Protects the integrity and attribution of the work

Related rights:
Public performance and display of the © work

See also:
WIPO - What is Copyright

Prevents unauthorised use of an identical or similar visual appearance for the same kind of products and/or services

See also:
EUIPO - Looking after your rights

Prevents unauthorised use of distinctive signs for the same or related products or/services

See also:
UK Government - Defend your intellectual propertyEUIPO - Looking after your rights

Prevents others from using the confidential information, as long as it remains secret

Allow to claim monetary compensation in case of unlawful disclosure of the confidential information

How long is my innovation protected?Up to 20 yearsLifetime of the author +50 to 70 years after death (depending on the country)Up to 25 years for registered designsIndefinitely, subject to use in commerce and renewalsIndefinitely, provided it is not revealed
Do I have to register it?

Yes, filing an application to a patent office is required

More on patent applications in:

EPO - Guide for applicants

EPO - Applying for a patent




No, copyright protection arises automatically with its creation

See also:
UK Government - How copyright protects your work

No, but it is highly advisable: Unregistered designs are protected only from unauthorised copying and they have shorter term of protection (up to 3 years versus up to 25)

More info in:
EU IPR Helpdesk

EUIPO - Route to registration

Yes, Three routes to registration:

National protection:



EU-wide protection:

International protection:
WIPO Madrid System

Ireland (IE)

How long does it take?3 to 5 yearsn/a

3 to 12 months, depending on the country


3 to 24 months, depending on the countryn/a
How much does it cost?

Medium to high (from 6000€)


If registered: low (from 15€)Low to medium (500€)Medium (1000€)Nothing
How do I start?

IPR Guide in Europe

Patent Basics

IPR Guide in Europe

Understanding Copyright and Related Rights

EUIPO - Design Basics


Trademark Protection in the EU

Trademarks Basics

Trade Secrets in the EU

How to manage confidential business information