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Protecting Intellectual Property Using Patents and Copyright

A-Level, IB, BTEC National
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 7 Aug 2019

Many businesses seek to protect the investment they make in their intellectual property by seeking and enforcing the protections offered by patents or copyright.

What is Intellectual Property?

Usually shortened to “IP”, intellectual property refers to the intangible assets that are created by businesses through their creativity and investment. Like all investments, IP hopefully generates returns in the future – and it is this that businesses seek to protect.

Why should a business seek to protect its IP?

Effective protection of IP may enable a business to:

  • Maintain a “unique selling point”
  • Maximise return on investment
  • Reduce threat of competition


Patents are designed to protect inventions. They do so by providing a time period of many years in which the invention cannot be copied by anyone else.

Patents are not easy to obtain. To be protected by a patent, an invention must be:

  • New
  • An innovative step (i.e. not obvious to other people with knowledge of the subject)
  • Capable of industrial application (i.e. it can be made and used!)
  • Not be excluded (certain inventions don't count - e.g. scientific theories, artistic creations)


Copyright is the protection afforded to the creators of work such as writing, music, art and other outputs from a creative process. Unlike patents, the holders of copyright do not need to apply for protection – it is given automatically. The key points to remember for copyright include:

  • Important protection for many industries – e.g. media, design, publishing
  • Protection is automatic for any original work
  • Lasts for 70 years after authors death
  • Can control how copyrighted work is exploited (e.g. licence, royalties)
  • Widely used as a way of protecting creative work of all kinds

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