Saturday, 16 March 2013

A Crafter's Guide to Intellectual Property part 2

Continuing from the last post, which covered copyright and design.


A patent protects a new invention – either a product or a process – which has some use. As well as being both new and useful, the product or process must be original to the extent that it must contain an inventive step which is not obvious, even to a person with knowledge and experience in the subject with which the invention deals or is involved.

There is also a range of inventions which cannot be patented, from mathematical or scientific theories, to breeds of animals and anything 'against public policy or morality' – the full list is available here on the IPO's website. 

The application process for a patent can be lengthy, costly and time-consuming. Fees to the IPO range from £230 upwards and patent lawyers are among the highest paid in a high paid profession.


A trademark (often referred to as a brand) is a distinctive sign which distinguishes your goods and services from those of your competitors. It can be words, logos or a combination of both. 

There are strict rules about what is and what is not considered an acceptable trademark – some of the rules are obvious, some not so obvious. 

The IPO has all the information – see here  and here

The only way to register your trade mark is to apply to the Intellectual Property Office, and to renew the registration periodically. An application for trademark registration starts at £170.

The above information is relevant to the UK only. I am not a lawyer, nor do I pretend to be one on the internet. If you need legal advice, ask a lawyer. If you want to know more about IP, read the wealth of information on

A Crafter's Guide to Intellectual Property

How often have you heard someone say, about the cushion they've just made, 'Oh, I'm going to patent this squirrel design  - it's my intellectual property so you're not allowed to copy it' ?

Or about the idea they've had for a new way of running a profitable craft fair - 'I'm going to register it as copyright! It's my idea so I own it!'?

And how often have you thought 'Hmmm, I wonder if they can ...'? Or even 'I wonder how they can ...?'

The answer to those specific examples above is, no they can't.  At the very least,  they've got things very mixed up.

So what is intellectual property?

It is the expression of an idea. It could be a new technology, a song, a book, an invention, a painting or anything else created by the mind. 

It can be owned, bought and sold in the same way as any other property, and IP law enables you to protect your rights to your property, just as other laws help protect the other types of property you own.

In order to be protected, it must be expressed

There is no protection for an idea or a concept. The craft fair idea is just that - an idea, nothing more - and so there is nothing to protect until it is expressed in some way.

It must also be new and original. Remember that word – original. The cushion design is a squirrel. A cushion is not original; a design of a squirrel is unlikely to be original. 

There are four main types of IP protection in law; copyright and design are the ones most likely to be of interest to the crafter.


Copyright is free of charge and automatic. It is the most widely-known and recognised type of IP protection, and I dealt with it fairly thoroughly in my last-but-one post. As ever, if you want to know more, or check the legality or accuracy of anything I say, explore


Design right protects the way something looks
There are two types of legal protection for designs.
UK design right is free and automatic. 
A Registered Design offers a greater level of protection; you must apply for it and pay a fee. 

Not all designs qualify for protection; anything that is commonplace, everyday or ordinary will not qualify; a significant degree of originality is required for a design to be protected. 
Some aspects of a design might not qualify for protection under this section of IP law. For instance, under automatic UK design right, surface ornamentation and other two-dimensional designs are excluded from design protection - although copyright law may come into play here, and protect the 2-d graphics.  A registered design excludes features dictated by technical function.

EU- wide protection is offered for both automatic design right and registered designs, under similar conditions to that of the UK. The IPO has an excellent table - which will help designers to decide what levels of protection are appropriate - on this page (scroll down a little way). 

Patents and trademarks to follow later.

Just to repeat - I am not a lawyer, I do not pretend to be a lawyer. If you want legal advice, ask a lawyer, and if you want to read the law on IP for yourself, there's a very good website I reference continually -