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Can I protect an idea?

Can I protect an idea?

As intellectual property lawyers, clients from across a range of sectors often approach us with the same question: I have an idea, how do I protect it?

Ideas and concepts can be protected under a number of different branches of intellectual property law.

Copyright & Designs

Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works tend to be protected by copyright. Whether an idea or concept can be protected depends on the nature of the idea and if or how it has been recorded. For example, if I have come up with a concept for a new children’s story book, but have not yet put pen to paper in terms of any notes, scripts, illustrations etc. then it is unlikely that I would be able to claim any ownership over that idea if someone else were to release a very similar book in the meantime.

If an idea for a new song, story, painting, photograph etc. has been recorded in some way and is original, that work is likely to be protected by copyright. If it meets those criteria, its author will automatically have copyright protection as soon as it is recorded: there is no need to register copyright in the UK.

Similarly, a design right can protect the appearance of a product. However, it is important to note that this is protection of the work itself, not the idea or concept behind it. For example, if someone creates a new board game which has animals as the playing pieces, the design of the game and the pieces themselves may be protected by copyright or design protection. However, this does not prevent someone else from creating another board game with animals as pieces, provided that it does not copy or produce the same overall impression as the existing game.

Trade Marks

A trade mark is generally used to protect a business or product name or logo. Any business which uses a trade mark in the course of trade in respect of certain goods or services will build up goodwill and unregistered trade mark rights in that mark. A business owner can also apply for a registered trade mark to further protect its brands and to prevent third parties from using a similar or identical trade mark for similar or identical goods and services. As discussed above, a trade mark will protect the name or logo itself, but not the concept behind the business as such. Therefore, a competitor could enter into the market providing a similar product or service as long as it is not doing so under an identical or similar brand name or logo.


Inventions tend to be protected by way of a registered patent, but again can only be protected if they are novel and have been recorded in a patent application. Similarly to copyright works, an idea for a new invention which has not been recorded in any way is unlikely to attract any protection.

In summary, there are certain circumstances where an idea can be protected by intellectual property, but these rights tend to protect the expression and recording of the idea rather than the concept behind it.

If you have a new business idea and require advice on how you might be able to protect it, please do not hesitate to get in touch on 03330 430350. Our team of experts will be happy to talk you through your options and offer assistance in obtaining registered protection if necessary.

About the author

Kirsty Stewart
Kirsty Stewart

Kirsty Stewart

Partner & Trade Mark Attorney

Intellectual Property, Trade Marks

For more information, contact Kirsty Stewart on +44 1382 346807.