Because intellectual property (IP) is not a physical asset, it can easily be overlooked. Safeguarding your business’s IP is an important step in developing and maintaining a successful business.

Your business may have a wealth of IP, from the name on your door, to an innovative new process – consider the things that differentiate you from your competitors. As your business grows, so too will the importance of these assets.

When establishing your presence in the marketplace, protecting and managing your IP will provide you with ownership rights over important aspects of your business. IP protection can stop your competitors copying or stealing your unique ideas, but you’d be wise to keep the idea confidential until it is protected.

If you have developed a new product, service, process or idea, check whether anyone else has already registered the IP, and if they haven’t, what would it cost for you to apply for registration. Visit the IP Australia website for more information.

Types of IP 

While there are seven types of IP protection which includes plant breeder’s rights, circuit layout rights and confidentiality/trade secrets, most businesses use patents, trademarks, copyright and design registration.


A patent is a right granted for any device, substance, method or process that is new and innovative. It gives the patent holder the exclusive and legal right to the invention for a period of time. The patent itself contains the technical details behind an invention and is made public for the world to see. The technical information and knowledge in patent documents are often used to inspire new inventions or explore technologies.


A trademark is used to distinguish goods and services from one business to another, be it a letter, number, word, phrase, sound, smell, shape, logo, or picture. Trademarks are not compulsory, however effective trademark management is an essential part of any brand strategy. In today’s world of connected and emerging markets, having a strong trademark can increase the visibility and unique identity of your business.


Copyright is a free and automatic legal right given to the creators of original works and is often applied to music, sound recordings, art, books, films and publications. Visit the Australian Copyright Council website for more information.


A design refers to features of shape, configuration, pattern or ornamentation which gives a product a unique appearance and must be new and distinctive in order to be registered. The registered design allows the owner to use it for commercial purposes, and to licence or sell it.

According to SBDC’s senior business adviser, Mike O’Donnell, one of the most common IP assets overlooked by small business is protecting a unique business name, by also registering it as a Trademark.

“Your registered business name doesn’t give you exclusive use of the name. A registered Trademark protects the name throughout Australia. You may also choose to extend your Trademark registration overseas (if not already registered there by others).

“Not all business names can be registered as a Trademark, and there are 34 classes of goods and 11 classes of services to be considered. Choosing the right classes can be important.

“If you consider your unique business name important for your business, then you’d be wise to check whether you can register the name as a Trademark, to legally protect it throughout Australia,” Mike O’Donnell said.

IP can be a valuable business asset. Learn about the basics of intellectual property, copyrights, patents, and trademarks and how to protect your business.

Legal and risk
24 April 2018