Protect your intellectual property when exporting

Last updated 19 March 2019

Intellectual property (IP) can be an idea, creative work, data, an invention or a brand.

IP protection is what stops it from being stolen or copied by someone else.

The type of protection you’ll need will depend on the type of IP you have.

Why you should protect your intellectual property

Protecting your IP helps to secure the future of your business. Along with theft, counterfeiting can be a danger for your business.

Today’s technology makes it easy for counterfeiters to make realistic copies of products, and the internet makes these counterfeits easy to sell.


You can apply for a patent to protect your ideas if it’s a product, process, or new idea. You can’t get a patent for a business method.

You could protect your idea for free by keeping it secret. If you do tell someone, get them to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Trade marks

You don’t have to register a trade mark, but it’s the best way to protect it. To successfully register a trade mark it must be distinctive and not descriptive - it can’t describe your product.


Work that you create may get automatic protection without you needing to apply for it. These types of work include:

  • literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work
  • software, web content and databases

Know what intellectual property you have

If you’re not sure what IP you have you can find out by:

Read the Intellectual Property Office’s business guidance.

When you should apply for intellectual property protection

Register your business name as a trade mark first. If you don’t register your name, you risk someone else stealing and using it.

You should also register any brands that you market your product under. For example, Coca Cola owns Sprite which is registered as a brand that is part of the Coca Cola company.

Each country has different rules. In China, the rights belong to the first to file a successful trade mark application. In the UK, a trade mark can be challenged by a company that has already built up a reputation through sales.

Apply for intellectual property protection

You can apply for IP protection on GOV.UK for a:

You only need to make one application for a trade mark or patent within the EU and can apply through the European Union Intellectual Property Office.

Outside of the EU, you generally have to make an application to every country you want protection in. Although you can apply to the World Intellectual Property Organization for protection in countries that have signed up to the ‘Madrid Protocol’.

Depending on the country, you’ll need to research how you can apply for IP protection or you can use an IP lawyer. Using an IP lawyer makes the process easier as they can:

  • apply on your behalf
  • offer expert IP advice based on your business plan
  • have connections with lawyers in other countries

Read the Intellectual Property Office’s guidance on: