What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual Property (IP) - is any intangible asset consisting of knowledge and ideas. It allows the outputs of research work to be owned in the same manner as physical property and protects it from infringement or copying. IP can be bought and sold like any form of property, and can also be rented out by the process of licensing, resulting in significant commercial and financial benefits for individuals, research groups and the organisations employing them.

Guide to Intellectual Property

Licences: There are two important general definitions that you may come across in licence agreements:

  • Foreground IP refers to all intellectual property that is generated in the course of a specific research project and includes all results, data and material produced.
  • Background IP describes any information created outside of a specific project such as results produced previously by the research workers on an earlier project or generated concurrently but outside of the scope of the project concerned.

The most common types of intellectual property arising from research are:

Patents provide inventors and owners with the exclusive right for a limited period of time to prevent anyone else from making, using or selling the invention (except with the consent of the patentee). Patentable research outputs may include machines, manufactured articles (devices), new materials (materials), processes (methods), and improvements of any of these, provided they are novel, contain an inventive step and have an industrial application. Generally a patent lasts for 20 years from the date of filing the application; however Ireland also offers a "short-term" patent, valid for a maximum of ten years.

Copyright gives the author/creator exclusive rights to their original work. They have the exclusive right to prohibit or authorise others to copy, perform, adapt or make the work available to the public through broadcasting or recordings. Copyright is generally applied to original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, sound and visual broadcasts, computer programmes, original databases or the typographical arrangement of published additions. Copyright law does not cover ideas and information themselves, only the form or manner in which they are expressed.

A design is legally defined as being "the appearance of the whole or part of a product resulting from the features of, in articular, the lines, contours, colours, shape, texture or materials of the
product or ornamentation". 

Aesthetics are an important consideration when marketing products and in building strong brands.

Once registered, this right can be traded like any other company asset – sold, licensed or used by the owner as a revenue source.

A trademark is a unique, recognisable sign, design, symbol or expression which identifies products or services of a organisation from those of others.

Confidential information or know how is a broad term used to cover information not generally known or reasonably ascertainable, by which the owner can obtain an advantage over competitors. An owner must show that the confidential information has been maintained in a way that reasonably anticipates preventing others from learning about it. It may refer to a formula, practice, process, design, instrument, pattern, or compilation of information and unlike patents and trademarks there is no way of registering ownership with a government agency.

Subject MatterProtectionFirst ownerTerm
Patents (utility)

New technical concepts,

innovations capable of industrial application

for patent at patent office
i.e. researcher or their employer if the discovery is made in course of employment
from date of application
or artistic materials, music, software, text, graphics, data compilations
or employer when made in course of employment
life + 70 yrs
Registered DesignAppearance of a product or a part of a product - including the lines,
contours, colour, shape, texture or materials of the product itself or
at patent office for individual national protection/ Community Design
ApplicantInitially for 5 years. Can be renewed for four further periods of five
years each
Trade MarkWords (alpha and/ or numeric), logos, designs, packaging, the shape of
goods or other means of distinguishing the goods or services of one organisation from those of others.
to the patent office to register your trademark
be renewed every 10 years
Confidential information/
Any sensitive technical or commercial information not covered by other forms of IPKeep
it confidential