Intellectual property

Intellectual property (IP) encompasses everything that has been created by you or your organisation, including ideas, technologies, literature, products and services.

The principal categories covered by IP protection laws are:

  • patents
  • trademarks
  • copyrights
  • circuit layout rights
  • plant breeders' rights
  • trade secrets.

Before entering a foreign market, we highly recommend that you seek legal advice from a reputable IP law specialist – such as a patent attorney – who knows the local conditions.

While Australia has a strong and extensive IP framework to protect the IP rights of businesses and individuals, other countries may not. For example, IP rights have been notoriously difficult to enforce in China and Malaysia – and despite recent improvements in the ability to both register and protect IP – some companies reportedly continue to suffer commercial losses due to problems in this area.

How do I register my IP?

How you register IP depends on the product type, protection and the country of registration. The process, time it takes, and the cost vary from country to country. For example in China, trademarks can take 18 months to be granted, design patents can take six to eight months, and copyright recordation procedures can take three months.

It's crucial to register your IP rights ahead of entering your market – if you don't, it's highly likely you won't be able to enforce them later.

First-to-file system

This system applies in many markets, such as Indonesia and South Korea. The first-to-file system means that no evidence of prior use or ownership is required when registering IP – leaving registration of popular foreign marks open to third parties who register ahead of the legitimate owner.

Confidentiality agreement

A confidentiality agreement is one of the most common forms of protecting technical information, proprietary knowledge and other confidential information.

We strongly recommend that you use a confidentiality agreement even if your information and/or product is covered by a patent.

Download a confidentiality agreement template.

What can I do if my IP is violated?

Enforcement options available for dealing with violation of your IP include:

  • Administrative enforcement – some countries have IP enforcement agencies that have specific powers to enforce IP rights.
  • Civil litigation – many countries will have a legal framework that allows companies to take civil action against IP violations through local courts.
  • Criminal law enforcement – criminal law may allow for prosecution of serious cases of piracy and counterfeiting. The threshold for prosecution differs from country to country.
  • Cease and desist letter – asks the recipient to 'cease' and 'desist' their violation of IP, and can be an effective way of putting a stop to an infringement, especially if the infringer is too small in scale, or not serious enough to warrant spending a lot of money.

Other useful resources

IP Australia provide more detail and facts about IP.

The World Trade Organization and World Intellectual Property Organization offer more information on international trade agreements and conventions for the protection of intellectual property, and international intellectual property protection.