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Protecting Your Intellectual Property – Why It’s Crucial for Your Small Business

intellectual property

Patents. Trademarks. Copyright. When you think about intellectual property, you probably think it doesn’t apply to small business. It’s easy to think that intellectual property is something that only applies to large businesses. But this is wrong.

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property (IP) describes the ownership of new inventions (or new applications of inventions), proprietary systems (such as software), original creative work, or branding.

Here we will cover the main types of IP (intellectual property) in Australia and what they mean for small business.


Trademarks distinguish goods and services between businesses and can include a word, phrase, letter, number, smell, sound, shape, logo or picture. You are not required to register a trademark, but you should keep it in mind if you want to protect your rights to use it.

For example, registering a business name does not protect it from being used by others. In fact, another business could trademark your business name and request that you stop using it. Also if your business name is similar to another business that holds the trademark, they could request that you stop using the name and threaten legal action. In order to protect your business name, and prevent others from using it, you will need to register for a trademark to protect your intellectual property. 

Besides business names, trademarks can protect logos, taglines, jingles and pictures. If you use any of these to brand your business, you will want to consider getting trademarks for these. Acting early will help to prevent conflicts if another business claims to rights to the images, words or concepts you use to describe your business.  Intellectual property is an asset. So in the long run, a trademark can add value to your business if you decide to sell it in the future.

The process for registering for a trademark is fairly simple and straightforward. You can go through the process on the IP Australia website or use the services of a trademark lawyer which will be much more expensive.  

Part of protecting your trademark is making sure that no one else is using. If you find that another business if infringing on your trademark, it is your responsibility to make contact and ask that they stop using it.

Learn more about the value of trademarking in From $26 to $26 billion: How trademarking can increase the value of your brand.


A patent is a right granted for an invention that can include any device, method, process or substance that new, innovative and useful. The owner of a patent gets an exclusive right to the invention for eight or 20 years. During this time, the patent can be legally enforced.

If you have an invention, it’s crucial that you don’t share and publicise it until you have successfully registered a patent. This is because the criteria for patents include that the concept is new, inventive, useful and secret.

With a patent, you have the right to prevent others from producing, using or selling your invention in Australia without your permission. You can also licence another business to manufacture your invention based on terms you agree upon.


Copyright protects the original expression of ideas, but it does not protect the ideas themselves. In Australia, works are automatically protected by Australian copyright. These include:

  • Written works – such as articles, blog posts, short stories, novels and website copy
  • Musical compositions – including songs, jingles and orchestral works
  • Artistic works – photos, drawings, paintings and illustrations
  • Films and sound recordings.


A design is the appearance of a product which can include its shape, pattern, configuration or ornamentation which contribute to a products unique appearance. To qualify to be registered, a design needs to be new and distinctive. When the design is registered, it protects the owner who can use it for commercial purposes, including licensing and selling it. A design differs from a patent in that applies to appearance while a patent applies to function.

Other forms of intellectual property

Other less common forms of intellectual property include plant breeder’s rights (are used to protect new plant varieties) and circuit layout rights ( with are used protect the layout plans or designs of electronic components in an integrated circuit, computer chips, or semi-conductors used in personal computers and computer-reliant equipment). Visit IP Australia to learn more about these forms of intellectual property.

Taking steps to protect your intellectual property rights

Protecting intellectual property is not just for large corporations. SMEs can take simple steps to protect themselves and add long-term value. These include:

  • Starting early – think about IP protection in the early stages of your business. What will need to protect? Some businesses might need to protect patents and designs while other might only need to think about trademarking their name.
  • Trademark your business name – registering a business name does not give you exclusive rights to the name in Australia. If you do it yourself, trademarking your business name online through IP Australia will cost under $500. It will cost much more if you use the services of a specialist in intellectual property law.
  • Don’t divulge your trade secrets – if you have a design or invention that’s unique, consider protecting the design or patent. Once it’s out in public, it will be more difficult to protect.
  • Review your intellectual property regularly – as your business grows and develops, your intellectual property will evolve. For this reason, it’s essential that you review your IP on a regular basis.

For more information on protecting your intellectual property, visit the IP Australia website.


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