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Last Updated: December  2008

United Kingdom

Intellectual Property Rights


The UK legal system provides a high level of intellectual property rights protection. The UK is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The UK is also a member of the major intellectual property protection agreements: the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Universal Copyright Convention, the Geneva Phonograms Convention, and the Patent Cooperation Treaty.

In August 2004, the UK published its first "intellectual property crime strategy." The national strategy represents important advancements in intelligence sharing and coordination between UK government agencies to combat IP crime, along with a commitment to improve training for customs enforcement agents.

Intellectual property laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, such that the acquisition, registration or enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights must be pursued or obtained separately in each territory of interest. However, these laws are becoming increasingly harmonised through the effects of international treaties such as the 1994 World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), while other treaties may facilitate registration in more than one jurisdiction at a time.



The UK Patents Act 2004 is designed to bring UK patent law into line with the updated European Patent Convention (2000). The Act lifts restrictions on filing patent applications from abroad, with exceptions made for military technology and applications whose contents could affect UK national security. The Act expands options for non-binding, written opinions on patent infringement to be issued by the UK Patent Office.

A UK patent application requires that an invention must be new, involve an innovative step, and be capable of industrial application. A patent cannot be granted in the UK for any invention used for offensive, immoral, or anti-social purpose, for any variety of animal or plant, or for a biological process used in its production.



The UK submits to the WIPO system of international registration of marks, as governed by the Madrid Agreement and the Madrid Protocol. The UK Trade Marks Act of 1994 is the current law providing for the registration and protection of trade marks in the UK, and has been harmonised with EU Directive No 89/104/EEC. Trademarks are considered personal property in the UK, and are normally registered for a period of 10 years with an option to renew. However, trademarks may be removed from the register if a period of five years has elapsed, during which time there has been no bona fide use of the trademark in relation to the goods by the proprietor.



In the United Kingdom designs are protected by three legal rights;

  • Registered designs
  • Unregistered design right
  • Artistic copyright



The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988 grants the originator the exclusive right to assign those rights or to exploit them through copying, dissemination, publication, or sale. Computer programs and semiconductor internal circuit designs are included as works that are protected by this act. Under the terms of an EU Directive which took effect in January 1988, databases are also protected in each EU-member country by the national legislation that implements the Directive.

Copyright protection is automatic as soon as there is a record in any form of the material that has been created, and there is no official registration or form or fee. But creators can take certain steps to help prove that material is theirs.



Patents, registered designs and trademarks need to be applied for and you will only get protection if what you have is something that can be protected by these types of Intellectual Property.

The UK Patent Office accepts applications and grants rights in each of these areas, but patents valid in the UK can also be obtained from The European Patent Office (EPO) and registered trade marks valid in the UK can be obtained from the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM). You should note that for security reasons an application to the EPO has to be cleared by the UK Patent Office first.

Copyright, design right and performers rights are three important unregistered Intellectual Property rights that you might have. The protection is automatic - there are no fees to pay or forms to fill in. If you have something that is capable of protection in these areas, you may have it even if you do not know it.



The duration of copyright is dependent on the type of work in question. Given below are examples of some works.

  • Literary, Dramatic, Musical and Artistic works: The lifetime of the author plus a period of 70 years from the end of the year in which the author dies.
  • Computer generated works: 50 years from the date of creation of the work. A work is deemed to be computer generated where there is "no human author".
  • Sound recordings: 50 years from the end of year in which it was made or published.
  • Broadcasts- 50 years from the end of the year of broadcast.
  • Typographical arrangement of published editions: 25 years from the year of first publication.

For further information, please go to the Government-backed home of UK Intellectual Property website


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Last Updated: December  2008



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