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Intellectual property (IP) is the property of your mind or a productive new idea that you create. This can be an invention, design, brand or even the application of your idea.

Watch IP Australia’s video to learn more on IP basics for business.

IP basics for business

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We focus on the 3 main registered rights as well as copyright. These are the common types of IP you’re likely to encounter as a small business owner. At a glance you’ll learn about patents, trade marks, designs and copyright.

Types of IP rights

There are a number of IP protection rights suited to the different types of IP. The most common types of IP rights are:

  • Patents protect inventions and new processes
  • Trade marks protect logos, words and other branding
  • Copyright protects art, writing, music, film, and computer programs
  • Registered designs protects the visual design of a product
  • Circuit layout rights protect layout designs or plans of integrated circuits used in computer-generated designs
  • Plant breeders rights protect the commercial rights of new plant varieties.


A patent protects any device, substance, method or process that is new, inventive and useful. 

It does not protect artistic creations, mathematical models, plans, schemes or mental processes. 

A Patent is legally enforceable and gives you exclusive rights to your invention for the life of the patent. 

There are two types of patents:

  • A standard patent provides long term protection and control for up to 20 years from the day you lodge your application.
  • An innovation patent protects your invention for up to eight years. To stop others from copying your invention, your innovation patent needs to be checked by IP Australia and meet the Patents Act 1990.

Engaging an attorney can help you choose the right patent and increase your chance of successfully getting a patent. Check out IP Australia’s Engaging an attorney toolkit for the how, why, what and when to engage a patent attorney.

Trade marks

A trade mark is a way of identifying a unique product or service. It can protect a letter, number unique symbol, word(s), logo, sound, shape, image or scent. 

A registered trade mark provides you with exclusive rights to use, license and sell the mark.  This means no one else in Australia can commercially use your trade mark for the same goods and/or services you have it registered for. 

The name of your company, business or your domain name are not types of IP. However, you can have exclusive rights to your business name by protecting it with a trade mark.

Trade Mark Assist

Learn the trade mark basics, explore the options for your proposed trade mark and register, all in one place.

Ready to register now?

Learn how to register a trade mark.


Copyright protects the way an idea or information is communicated, such as writing, music, visual images, broadcasts, sound recording, moving images and computer programs.

Copyright protection is free and automatic under the Copyright Act 1968. You don’t need to register for copyright in Australia.

Registered designs

Design is what makes a product look the way it does, for example, the shape, pattern or configuration. When applied to a product, it gives it a unique appearance.

Registering a design can prevent others from using the design without your permission. It will also give you exclusive rights to use, licence and sell the design for up to 10 years.

Circuit layout rights

Circuit layout rights protect original layout designs for integrated circuits and computer chips in computers or equipment such as:

  • watches
  • electrical household items like washing machines or televisions
  • medical equipment.

You don’t need to register circuit layout rights, these are automatically started as soon as a plan or design is created.

Plant breeder's rights

If you develop a new plant variety or acquire ownership, you may want to protect your IP with plant breeder's rights.

Protecting your IP

Protect your IP overseas

If your business operates in a global market, you should consider IP protection for each country you do business with. 

Without having formal IP protection in place you are at risk of:

  • having your product or service copied without permission
  • infringing someone else’s IP without knowing it.

You should consider applying for international IP protection if your business:

  • exports products or services to an overseas country
  • sells products or services overseas
  • manufactures products overseas.

Read our steps on protecting your IP overseas.

Resolving IP disputes

If you think someone is infringing on your IP or have an IP dispute, consider a qualified mediation provider. Check IP Australia's Alternative dispute resolution web page for more information. 

Resources to help your business

Australian IP Toolkit for Collaboration

The IP toolkit helps researchers and business in collaboration project understand IP. It provides a number of resources including:

  • a checklist covering the key issues that need to be considered
  • templates for contracts, confidentiality agreements and term sheet
  • guidance and information to help collaborating parties manage their IP.
  • Go to IP Australia’s website to use the IP Toolkit.

Case studies

Not sure how IP relates to your business? There are a number of examples of how other Australian businesses have dealt with their IP on the IP Australia website.