Intellectual Property is a basket of different rights.  There is no precise definition of “intellectual property” but it can be divided into the areas of trade marks, patents, copyright, database rights, designs and confidential information.

Intellectual Property are important (whether collectively or individually) to businesses as they are intangible assets that can be financially exploited because like physical property, they can be sold or licensed. Every business possesses such assets whether they are aware of it or not. 

When a business is establishing its presence in the marketplace, protecting and managing its intellectual property is critical as it can mean the difference between success or failure. That is why it is important for businesses to understand the different forms of intellectual property because some involve a formal application and examination process before a right can be registered while others come into play without the need for a registration process. Below is a glossary explaining the various rights which businesses may find beneficial.

Confidential information

Obligations of confidence can arise under contract or under the general law. Duties under the general law may arise from a particular relationship (employer-employee) or where information has been received by a person who was aware, or should have been aware, that the information was confidential. Confidential information can be the most valuable asset of a business. The information can relate to any subject matter and be stored in any form. Examples include a new product design, a marketing strategy and software code.


Copyright is the right to prevent copying (and certain other acts) in relation to works that qualify for protection. Copyright can subsist in literary, musical, artistic and dramatic works as well as original databases, sound recordings, films, broadcasts, cable programmes and typographical arrangements of published editions.

The duration of protection will vary depending on the work. For example, copyright in literary, musical, artistic and dramatic works, a film or an original database expires 70 years after the death of the author while in the case of sound recordings, broadcasts, cable programmes and typographical arrangements, the duration is 50 years.

Database right

The owner of the database right has the right to undertake or authorise others to extract or re-utilise all or a substantial part of the contents of a protected database. A database is protected where there has been a substantial investment in obtaining, verifying or presenting the contents of the database. This right is separate to copyright.

The duration of the database right is 15 years from the end of the calendar year in which the making of the database was completed or it was first re-utilised.


A design can be registered if it is new and has individual character. A design is “new” when nothing like it has been previously made available to the public and has “individual character” if the overall impression it produces on an informed user differs from that produced by a design which has previously been made available to the public.

A design can be registered (in Ireland or Europe) for a period of 5 years and then renewed, for periods of 5 years, to a maximum period of 25 years.


A patent gives the inventor the exclusive right, for a limited period, to prevent others from using his invention without permission. An invention is patentable if it is (i) novel; (ii) capable of industrial application; and (iii) involves an inventive step.

A full term patent is registered for 20 years. In Ireland, it is also possible to register a short term patent for 10 years. It is not possible though to hold both a full and short term patent for the same invention. Therefore, when both patents are granted, the short term patent will be deemed void.

Trade Mark

A trade mark identifies goods or services as those produced or provided by a specific person or enterprise.

The period of protection is 10 years but a trade mark can be renewed indefinitely on payment of renewal fees.

Having a reasonable knowledge of intellectual property will help businesses to incorporate these assets into their planning and strategy.