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Intellectual property

Ideas and unique creations can exist in every business. They're important for long term financial success and can make you more competitive than your rivals. But how do you stop competitors from copying your most valuable asset?

Why should I register my IP?

In most cases you must formally register your IP, however automatic protection is given to copyright, circuit layout rights, confidential information and trade secrets.

Some benefits of protecting your IP can include:

  • your business may be protected from competitors stealing or copying your idea
  • opportunity to commercialise your idea, potentially leading to financial reward
  • may lead to competitive advantage in the market place
  • your IP rights are protected for a set period of time
  • they can be a valuable asset on your balance sheet.

Business names

A business name is the name under which your business trades. There is a myth that registering a business name gives you exclusive use and ownership of that name. This is false, you can only get this protection by registering your business name and/or brand as a trade mark.

Trademarks

Having a registered trade mark can be your most valuable marketing tool. It gives you the exclusive right in Australia to establish a brand identity and legally stop imitators. Unlike a business name, a registered trade mark can provide legal protection for your brand and enable you to stop others from trading with it.

Once registered, the trade mark is protected in all Australian states and territories for an initial period of 10 years. For international protection, you need to register your trade mark in each country you want protection in.

Registering your business, company or domain name does not give you any proprietary rights—only a trade mark can give you that kind of protection. To have exclusive use of your name now and in the future, throughout Australia, you should register your business name as a trade mark.

If you are unsure of what or how to register, seek the advice of your accountant, lawyer or trade mark attorney.

Patents

If you've developed a device, substance, method or process which is new, inventive and useful, a patent can be the best way to protect it.

A patent is legally enforceable and gives you the exclusive right to commercially exploit your invention for the life of the patent. The only creations that can't be patented are artistic creations, mathematical models, plans, schemes or mental processes.

Once you've applied for a patent, the application is assessed against the necessary legal requirements.

There are two types of patents in Australia:

  • standard patents – provides long term protection and control over an invention for up to 20 years from the day you file your complete application.
  • innovation patents – protects creations that are innovative ideas or creations, but may not necessarily be new inventions. Your idea is protected for up to eight years.

Find out more about patents on the IP Australia website.

Design

A design is the overall appearance of a product. This includes the shape, configuration, pattern and ornamentation which, when applied to a product, give it a unique visual appearance.

Design registration is intended to protect designs which have an industrial or commercial use. A registered design gives you, the owner, exclusive rights to commercially use it, licence or sell it.

A design can be registered in Australia, provided it is both:

  • 'new' - meaning it must not be identical to any design previously disclosed anywhere in the world (including on the internet), nor any design previously used in Australia; and
  • 'distinctive' - meaning it must not be substantially similar in overall impression to any design previously published anywhere in the world (including on the internet), nor any design previously used in Australia.

For more information and to register your design visit the IP Australia website.

Copyright

Copyright protection is free and automatic in Australia and protects the original expression of ideas, and not the ideas themselves.

Common works protected by copyright are:

  • books
  • films
  • music
  • sound recordings
  • newspapers
  • magazines
  • artwork

Copyright also protects originally created:

  • typographical arrangements
  • databases
  • media broadcasts
  • computer programs
  • compositions of other people's work such as academic journals or CD compilations

Help

For more information visit the IP Australia website or business.gov.au.