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Intellectual property basics – what every small business should know

Have you ever wondered whether you have any intellectual property (IP) in your business? IP refers to creations of the mind and includes things like a brand name, logo, invention, design or artistic work, or new plant variety. That’s a wide range of creative assets, so it’s likely that your small business has some form of IP that can be protected with an IP right. 

IP rights give you exclusive legal rights to profit from your ideas. There are four IP types you can register with IP Australia, the government agency that administers IP rights — trade marks, patents, design rights and plant breeder’s rights. 

  • Trade marks: A trade mark protects your unique brand and distinguishes your product or service. Trade marks can be used to protect a logo, phrase, word, letter, colour, sound, smell, picture, movement, aspect of packaging or any combination of these. Registered trade mark owners have exclusive rights for 10 years and registrations can be renewed indefinitely. IP Australia’s TM Checker tool makes it easier for small businesses to apply to register a trade mark in minutes from $330. 
  • Patents: A patent protects an invention, or how something works. It may be a device, substance, method or process but it must be new, useful and inventive in order to be granted a patent. Lasts up to 20 years (for a standard) to 25 years (pharmaceutical). 
  • Design rights: Protects the overall appearance of your new and distinctive product for up to 10 years (renew registration at 5 years). The appearance may be a combination of shape, colour, configuration pattern and ornamentation. 
  • Plant breeder’s rights: A plant breeder’s right protects new plant varieties. It could be for a new variation of flower, vegetable, fruit, tree or plant. Exclusive use of new varieties of plants lasts for 20-25 years, depending on the plant type. 

To work out which of these four IP rights apply to your business, try IP Australia’s Choosing the right IP tool to help you identify what type of IP protection you may need in two easy steps. You may need to protect your idea with multiple types of IP rights. 

Registering for an IP right is not just about protection, but it can potentially increase the value of a business by creating valuable IP assets which can be commercialised through licensing, transfer or sale. 

There are other types of IP including copyright, circuit layouts and trade secrets that are not administered by IP Australia. Copyright protects art, non-commercial designs, music, literature or film. Copyright protection is free and applies automatically. To learn more, visit the Copyright Council website. 


Other great tools to protect your IP include non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality clauses in contracts. To learn more about how a registered IP right supports your business’s success, and how to apply, visit the IP Australia website. 


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