Different Types of Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property is a category of property that includes intangible creations of the human intellect.

IP can be an invention, trade mark, design, brand, or the application of your idea. Some of the main categories of IP are; trade marks, copyright, patents and trade secrets.

Countries around the world have different IP protections and laws. A convenient and cost effective solution for international trade mark protection is The Madrid System. This centralised international system can be used to register trade mark protection in up to 128 countries.

Protecting your IP as a business owner is very important. Some benefits include creating or protecting revenue streams from your IP, strengthening your brand against competitors in the marketplace, increasing the overall value of your brand and more.

There are four types of IP you can register through IP Australia. They are;

Trade Marks

A trade mark is used to distinguish your goods and services from those of another business. It can be a symbol, word(s), sound, number, image or scent used to represent a business. Once registered it grants the trade mark owner exclusive rights to use, licence or sell it to others.⠀⠀


A patent legally protects your invention or how something works for a set period of time to exclude others from making, selling or using an invention. In exchange for this protection, the patent owner must publicly disclose the invention.

You can use a patent for new technology, devices, substances or processes.


Design Rights

A design is what makes a product look the way it does and includes shape, configuration, pattern and ornamentation. When applied to a product, it gives it a unique appearance. A design right is registered under the Designs Act 2003 and is for designs that have a commercial or industrial use. It gives you the commercial right to license, use or sell it.


Plant Breeder’s Rights

Protects the commercial rights of new plant varieties.


Head to IP Australia’s website here for more information on trade marks, patents, design rights and plant breeder’s rights.


There are other types of IP that IP Australia doesn’t administer rights for. These are;


This grants exclusive rights to the copyright owner to enable them to determine how their work can be used. It protects the expression of ideas & information in material form and applies automatically as soon as something is written down or recorded.

Circuit Layout Rights

Protects layout designs or plans of integrated circuits used in computer-generated designs.

Trade Secrets

Trade Secrets are a form of Intellectual Property that include any confidential information such as secret formulas, processes and methods used in production.

Trade Secrets give creators certain rights and privileges depending on the type of IP protection. They are not the same as trade marks as you don’t ‘register’ trade secrets.

A trade secret is proprietary knowledge and it is up to you to protect that knowledge. One way you might keep this knowledge out of competitors’ hands is by ensuring employees or distributors sign confidentiality agreements. Departing employees are the most common source of trade secret leakage!

The age old recipe for Coca-Cola and the combination of herbs and spices used in Kentucky Fried Chicken are famous examples of trade secrets.


Common IP Symbols

is for copyright. In Australia, as soon as a work is first written down or recorded in some way, it is automatically copyrighted. The creator doesn’t need to do anything to gain copyright or protection of their work (although there are other avenues of protection such as trademarks). Creating a copyright notice by using the above symbol followed by the name of the copyright owner and first year of publication is not mandatory but it’s helpful to remind others that the work is protected by copyright.

is for trade marks and shows competitors and consumers you intend for your brand to operate as a trade mark. Using the symbol doesn’t mean your trade mark is registered or have any rights pertaining to registered trade marks under the Trade Marks Act 1995.


is also for trade marks but indicates the trade mark has been registered under the Trade Marks Act 1995. This shows competitors and consumers your registered trade mark has been granted certain exclusive rights (dependent on the classes it’s registered under) and protection.

Note; in Australia, it’s an offence to use the symbol for a trade mark which hasn’t been registered and penalties may apply.

As an Intellectual Property law firm, we can provide a legal or ownership framework to protect your business operations and its intellectual property. Whether it’s registering trade marks, design rights, patents or understanding copyright protections as well as developing contracts related to your IP or assisting with infringement matters, we’ve got you covered.⠀

Contact our friendly team here and find out more about our intellectual property services here.