The Basics

There are many types of protection that might be available to you to protect your new idea. The overall key to having some protection is that the idea or concept is new, i.e. hasn’t been done, made, designed or created before.

Some types of protection exist automatically once you have created something, whilst other types of protection require certain actions to be taken to secure that protection. The rights that exist automatically are often referred to as unregistered rights and those that involve an application procedure are typically referred to as registered or granted rights.

The different types of protection for a new idea or concept can be roughly divided into four categories:

1. those that protect the appearance of something,

2. those that protect the content of something creative or otherwise original,

3. those that protect the name of a business or the name of a product or service, and

4. those that protect a technical function or process. 

In most cases, more than one of the above categories will apply to a particular concept and some types of protection overlap. It is always useful to identify all of the types of protection that might be available at the outset, since they will be useful in the overall protection of your idea or concept.

1. Protecting the appearance of something

There are a number of different types of protection that are available to protect the appearance of something. The most suitable type of protection will depend upon the form of the 'thing'.

Copyright is one type of protection that many people have heard of at some point that can guard against the unauthorised copying of the appearance or the aesthetics of certain types of work. It is usually available to protect original artistic works (artwork, sculptures, photographs) and designed works (company or product logo designs, webpage layouts), whether 2D or 3D. Most businesses have a website and a company logo and therefore, already own some original works that are entitled to copyright protection.

You can read more about copyright here.

Design right is another type of protection that can guard against the unauthorised copying of the appearance of something, but is limited to the 3D appearance and so, generally covers designs for articles. In particular, design right exists to protect internal or external shape or configuration of an original design, i.e. its 3D shape.  This might be a shape of a vase or even a more technical product such as a light fitting with decorative features. In contrast with copyright, it is not helpful in protecting a 2D surface pattern or decoration. Another key consideration is that the features of the design should not be purely functional in order to be covered by design right.

You can read more about design right here.

A Registered design protects the overall visual appearance of a product or a part of a product. However, this right is only obtained through an application process. The registered protection is broader than that provided by unregistered design right as it covers 2D and 3D shapes and surface decorations such as colour arrangements, surface textures and materials of a product. Therefore, a registered design can be used to protect a new pattern for use on a product, a stylised logo, the appearance of packaging, graphic symbols, typographic typefaces and parts of products intended to be assembled into more complex products.

You can read more about registered designs here.

For more information regarding the advantages and disadvantages of the different overlapping types of protection, we have provided a Comparison of Registered versus Unregistered rights available here.

2. Protecting the content of something creative or otherwise original

Copyright can also guard against the unauthorised copying of other creative or original works that do not qualify as an aesthetic product. There is a degree of protection available for other original works such as novels, lyrics and poems, marketing literature and website text, dramatic works including films and theatre plays, musical arrangements, computer program code and databases. Most businesses have some marketing literature and a website with textual content that is usually entitled to copyright protection.

You can read more about copyright here.

3. Protecting the name of a business or the name of a product or service

Unregistered trade mark rights are there to help protect your most valuable asset in business - your brand. Your brand will usually include a memorable trade mark, which may be the name of your business, product, or service, or the sign that is used to identify the business, product, or service, e.g. words, logos or a combination of both. Unregistered trade mark rights generally exist where the trade mark can be said to effectively distinguish your goods and services from those of your competitors and therefore, accrue over a significant period of use of your trade mark.

You can read more about unregistered trade mark rights here.

Registered trade marks are also available to help you protect words, logos or a combination of both as part of your brand, but are rights acquired through an application process. A registered trade mark is generally considered to be more robust than an unregistered trade mark right, because you do not need to have been using your trade mark for a significant period of time in order to obtain protection for your trade mark.

You can read more about registered trade marks here.

See our Comparison of Registered versus Unregistered rights for more information regarding the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of protection available here.

4. Protecting technical function of something

Patents are used to protect inventions which are new ideas or concepts that have a technical function or a technical element. To qualify as an invention the idea or concept does not need to be a giant departure from anything that has previously existed. Therefore, an invention may be an entirely new functional product, or part of a product, a method of doing something or a new use of something. A new functional improvement whether large or small, in an existing product or method may also be considered an invention. The function or element must be new over everything that has been made public before the patent is applied for and critically must not be an obvious adaptation or improvement. A patent is obtained through an application procedure and it is vitally important that the invention is confidential at the time that a patent is applied for.

You can read more about patents here.

Just because a concept involves a functional product, it does not rule out the possibility that there may be other more aesthetic features to the product that may be entitled to copyright, design right or be suitable for registered design protection.

If you would like to talk to us about protecting your idea or concept, please contact us.