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Hands off my invention!

Hands off my invention!So, you’ve designed the best thing since sliced bread. How do you make sure no one steals your idea?

There are many different ways of protecting your ideas. Below is a list of the main ways in which inventors make sure they can keep the rights to their inventions.

Intellectual Property

If you come up with an idea for a fabulous new invention, that idea is your intellectual property. Your intellectual property is protected by the law. This includes anything you have that might give explanations of your idea, such as drawings, papers, even a sketch on the back of your exercise book!

There are two main types of intellectual property. Industrial property (like design rights, patents and trademarks) includes inventions, designs, logos, etc. Copyright covers things such as books, songs, and comics.

Design rights

Design rights protect your ideas about how a product looks. For instance, if you had come up with a great new heart-shaped mobile phone, you would acquire UK design rights to heart-shaped phones.

The automatic rights you acquire last only for 12 months. The idea is that in this time you can work out whether anyone actually wants a heart-shaped phone. If they do, then you can register the design. Once registered, you can then sell or license someone else to use it.

In order to register a design the most important thing is that the design you have produced is new. This means, sadly, that you cannot acquire the rights to Live Journals’ heart-shaped mobile phone, as we have already thought of it!


A patent is used to protect any inventions that you have. Inventions are different to designs as they show how something works rather than how it looks. In our mobile phone example, for instance, it might be that we have invented a way to make it project holograms onto walls. The hologram process would require a patent, rather than a design right.


A trademark is a sign that distinguishes a product or company from others. It must be distinctive and not refer to the product itself. For instance, we couldn’t call our heart-shaped phone ‘mobile phone’ and register that as a trademark – it simply describes the product. We couldn’t call it ‘Nokya phone’ either, as that could seem too similar to another mobile phone manufacturer.

However, as long as our choice of trademark was not offensive or too similar to another registered trademark, we could call it whatever we like.


Copyright is used to protect artistic works. Examples of things covered by copyright are:

  • songs
  • books
  • websites (like this one!)
  • photographs

Unlike the other kinds of Intellectual Property rights, you do not need to register anything to claim copyright. You could write a short story tonight and, as long as the work was original, you would own the copyright. However, in some situations, people choose to leave a dated copy of their work with a bank or solicitor so that if anyone tries to copy their work they can prove that they came up with it first.

So, what about that catchy jingle that you came up with to advertise the new mobile phone? It’s your intellectual property. If anyone tries to copy it, you can take them to court!

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