Copyright, trademarks and patents explained

You probably recognise copyright, trademarks and patents as types of intellectual property (IP). But how do you know if you need one in your business? We explain what each of these things is, and why you might need it.


Copyright is granted automatically when you create original, tangible work such as a photograph, novel, or music file. You have the right to display the work, perform the work, and make copies of it.

You can formalise the copyright in your work. You’re probably familiar with the © mark next to certain pieces of copyrighted work. This means that the work has been re with the UK Copyright Service.

You don’t have to register your copyright to protect your rights. But doing so will put you in a stronger legal position if anybody tries to rip off your work. You might be able to prove that you are the original creator of the work without a copyright registration, but your legal case will be cheaper and more straightforward if you have it registered.

People who are creating original work should think about getting formal copyrights for their creation. That’s people like artists, writers, photographers and musicians.


A trademark is literally the mark under which you trade. Think of it as the elements of your brand – your name, logo, slogan.

Unlike copyright, trademark is not an automatic right and you will need to apply for it. The process can take around six to 18 months. Once it’s processed you can demonstrate that your name or logo is trademarked with the ™ sign.

A trademark will help to protect your reputation. It means that other people can’t benefit from the goodwill you’ve worked hard to build and hold themselves out to be part of your brand, or (even worse) pretend to be you.

Without a trademark, your brand could by damaged if another business dresses themselves up like you. They could be providing goods and services that are sub-standard, and because people associate them with you, your brand is impaired. You may also lose customers who think they are instructing you, but instead have been duped by imitators.

Having the ™ sign next to your name or logo can be useful for your marketing as well. It gives weight to the credibility of your business and suggests to clients that you are a strong, reputable business.

If you’re in business, it’s worth registering your trademark. From sole traders to SMEs and large corporations, it’s a useful tool in your armoury against imitators. It’s fairly cheap to do and costs around £170.


Patents are protection for industrial processes and inventions. When you own the patent, you have exclusive right to use, sell, and manufacture the invention.

Applying for a patent is an involved process, and you have to submit detailed technical information about the invention. It’s a lengthy application and takes around two to three years for the patent to be granted.

However, it’s worth it if you have a brand new invention. It will protect you from unauthorised use of your invention, and it stops anybody else monetising your product and taking the credit for all your hard work.

In the scheme of things, few businesses will need to apply for patents. It’s usually for people operating in the research and development space, or those creating new innovations and new inventions.

If you would like any advice on which IP protection is right for you, or if you would like help to apply for the protection you need, please get in touch with us at SME Comply.

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