Four ways to protect your intellectual property

Close up of couple stood next to eachother smiling and holding a notebook

Hazel and Jimmy Russell, founders of The Wood Life Project, sought advice from BIPC Norfolk about intellectual property. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

The ‘IP’ in Business & IP Centre Norfolk, run by Norfolk County Council’s Library & Information Service, stands for Intellectual Property - but what exactly is it and why should you protect it?

Intellectual property can consist of many different areas, from logos and corporate identity through to products, services and processes that differentiate your business offering. It’s when these ideas are used without permission that an organisation can suffer.

Almost all businesses have undoubtedly benefited from the internet, where products, services and marketing communications can reach vast audiences at relatively low costs - but this has also increased the chances of intellectual property theft.

Companies of all sizes are at risk of having their unique ideas, products or services infringed upon, even if they are on the other side of the world, making intellectual property protection more important than ever.

Patents, trade marks, copyright and registered designs are the four main ways to protect intellectual property.

What is a patent?

A patent for an invention is granted by government to the inventor, giving the inventor the right to stop others, for a limited period, from making, using or selling the invention without their permission.

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When a patent is granted, the invention becomes the property of the inventor, which like any other form of property or business asset can be bought, sold, rented or hired. A patent protects the way something actually works rather than its appearance.

What is a trade mark?

Trade marks are badges of origin. They distinguish the goods or services of one trader from another and can take many forms - eg words, slogans, logos, shapes, colours and sounds.

Trade marks are registered for specific goods or services within individual subjects, known as classes. It is possible for others to register an identical or similar mark if it is in a different, unconnected class.

What is copyright?

Copyright normally protects the work created by, or 'originated' with, its author. There must have been some skill, labour or judgment in the creation of the work, and in the case of a database it must be the author's own intellectual creation. Examples of work protected by copyright include: books, technical reports, paintings, songs.

What are registered designs?

A registered design protects only the shape or appearance of a product. It gives its owner the exclusive right to the design of that product and it can be used to deter others from copying it.

If the look of your product is likely to make a person want to purchase it rather than another product that looks different but performs an identical function, then a registered design can and should be obtained.

It may seem initially daunting or time consuming, but protecting your IP is well worth the time and effort and isn’t as difficult as you may think. Specially trained staff from BIPC Norfolk can give you free advice on a range of intellectual property topics up to, but not including, legal advice.

Looking through the glass doors of the Business & IP Centre in Norfolk

BIPC Norfolk is based on the second floor of the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library in Norwich. - Credit: Julian Claxton Photography/Norfolk County Council

Hazel Russell, co-founder of the of The Wood Life Project based in Attleborough, is just one of the many people and businesses who have sought IP guidance from BIPC Norfolk.

Her company designs and sells eco-friendly wooden products as alternatives to plastic.
Hazel says: “Through one-to-one sessions with advisors I learnt about trade mark and patent options and how to register designs. I started registering my designs, and BIPC Norfolk helped and encouraged me to move forward with the business.

Woman sat in shop showcasing wooden bowls and platters on walls

Hazel Russell, co-founder of the of The Wood Life Project based in Attleborough, is just one of the many people and businesses who have sought IP guidance from BIPC Norfolk. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

“I’ve since been back to BIPC Norfolk to learn more about finance, strategy, and raising funds. The support really helped build my confidence and get the business off the ground.”

BIPC Norfolk offers free one-hour confidential IP advice sessions (currently held online or by phone). To book, visit

Next week: We look at how BIPC Norfolk can help you transform, future-proof or grow your business.


  • Footballer Paul Gascoigne was one of the first sports people to register his nickname ‘Gazza’ as a trade mark.
  • Nestlé failed in its attempts to trade mark the KitKat shape after a judge in the UK’s Court of Appeal ruled that the rectangular bar with breaking grooves was not distinctive enough.
  • Technology giant Microsoft has filed a patent for a system to monitor employees' body language and facial expressions during work meetings and give the events a ‘quality score’.
  • Street artist Banksy lost the copyright to one of his most famous works because he refused to reveal his true identity to a court.

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