Intellectual property

Intellectual property

Intellectual property (IP) describes creations of the mind that can be legally owned. Your IP can be protected under rights such as copyright, patents, trade marks, registered designs, plant breeder’s rights and circuit layouts.

In most cases you must formally register your IP, although protection is automatic for copyright and circuit layout rights.

We don’t give legal advice about IP, but there are other organisations that can help.


Copyright is the right to control copying of original literary, musical and artistic material. Copyright begins as soon as work is recorded in some way. This may be by writing, keyboard entry and storage on a computer's hard disk, or making an audio or video recording. Copyright does not protect ideas.

Copyright normally lasts for 70 years after the author dies. During this time, anyone who wants to reproduce, publish, adapt or perform the work has to get permission from the copyright owner.

You can find out more and may be able to get help with copyright matters from the following:

Patents for inventions

A patent is a right to an invention. The right allows an inventor to stop others making money from their invention. A person may apply for patents for new products, devices, substances, manufacturing processes or business methods.

For information about the kinds of things that can be patented and how to apply, go to the patents section on the IP Australia website.

Trade marks

A trade mark is a sign used so that buyers identify a good or service as being associated with a company or trader. Trade mark signs could be letters, words, phrases or acronyms (such as TAB), logos, shapes, colours, scents or sounds. After a trademark is registered, other companies cannot use anything that looks, sounds or smells too much like it if they are selling similar goods or services.

For information about trade marks and how to apply, go to the trade marks section on the IP Australia website.

Registered designs

A registered design protects the way a product looks. It protects the shape, pattern or decoration that makes the product look different from other products. Examples of registered designs include the shape and design of a mobile phone, the stitching detail on jeans pockets or a tyre tread.

For information about registering a design, go to the designs section on the IP Australia website.

Plant breeder's rights

Plant breeder's rights protect new and distinctive plant varieties. They grant the breeder exclusive commercial rights to the plant variety, including production, sale and distribution. A breeder must register in any state that they would like their plants to be protected.

For information about registering a plant variety, go to the plant breeder’s rights section on the IP Australia website.

Circuit layouts

This right protects computer chips and computer circuit layouts. The owner of the original circuit has the exclusive right to copy and sell the layout.

For information about the protection of circuit layouts, go to the circuit layout rights section on the IP Australia website.

Other legal help

If you need to speak to a lawyer about IP matters, you can use the Law Institute of Victoria’s Legal Referral Service to find a lawyer near you. All law firms included in the Legal Referral Service provide a free 30-minute interview.

If you book an interview, write your questions down beforehand, so you get as much out of the free 30 minutes as possible. If you discuss getting further help from the lawyer, make sure you know how much it will cost.

Other resources

You may find the Intellectual Property Explorer to be a useful resource. An online tool developed by IP Australia with the IP departments of the Singapore and Hong Kong governments, it can help small businesses identify what they need to protect.

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