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14th December, 2023

Understanding the power of intellectual property for small businesses

Protecting your small business’s intellectual property (IP) can be a game-changer, enhancing innovation and growth.

Take a moment to explore the different types of IP and their benefits, focusing on how they can empower your small business.

IP rights can safeguard your small business’s ideas, products, and services, providing long-lasting advantages.

They’re also valuable assets that can be commercialised through licensing, transfer or sale.

Research from IP Australia, the Australian government agency that administers IP rights, has found that small businesses with IP rights employ more people, pay higher wages and are twice as likely to experience high turnover growth than those without.

Types of intellectual property

There are four IP rights you can register with IP Australia: 

  • Trade marks: A trade mark protects your unique brand and distinguishes your product or service. Trade marks can be used to protect a logo, phrase, word, letter, colour, sound, smell, picture, movement, aspect of packaging or any combination of these. As a result, registered trade mark owners have exclusive rights that help prevent others from using similar trade marks. These rights last for 10 years and registrations can be renewed indefinitely.
  • Patents: A patent protects an invention, or how something works. It may be a device, substance, method or process but it must be new, useful and inventive in order to be granted a patent. Also, it lasts up to 20 years (for a standard) to 25 years (pharmaceutical).
  • Design rights: Protects the overall appearance of your new and distinctive product for up to 10 years (renew registration at 5 years). The appearance may be a combination of shape, colour, configuration pattern and ornamentation.
  • Plant breeder’s rights: A plant breeder’s right protects new plant varieties. It could be for a new variation of flower, vegetable, fruit, tree or plant. Exclusive use of new varieties of plants lasts for 20-25 years, depending on the plant type.

Other types of IP

Firstly, to work out which of these four IP rights apply to your business, try IP Australia’s Choosing the right IP tool to help you identify what type of IP protection you may need in two easy steps.

You may need to protect your idea with multiple types of IP rights.

Copyright protects art, non-commercial designs, music, literature or film. Copyright protection is free and applies automatically. To learn more, visit the Copyright Council website.

Other great tools to protect your IP include non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality clauses in contracts.

Finally, to learn more about how a registered IP right supports your business’s success, visit the IP Australia website

IP for SMEs

How a trade mark can secure your brand

A trade mark is not the same as a business or company name, which provides less protection.

Registering a business name is an administrative requirement, while a trade mark grants you the authority to take legal action against businesses using similar names.

Additionally, ensure your brand’s security by checking if you can secure the business name, trade mark, domain name and social media handles.

Also, this comprehensive approach strengthens your brand’s presence.

Start your trade mark journey with IP Australia’s TM Checker tool developed specifically for small businesses.

It allows you to quickly and simply check whether your proposed trade mark is potentially available for registration in Australia.

If it is, you can also use the tool to apply for registration from $330.

Case study: Tutu By You

Tutu by You is an example of how a small business used IP protection to help them on their journey to success.

Founded by cousins Steph Young and Emily Murray, Tutu by You wanted to bring happiness to kids with their unique and colourful tutu designs.

To protect their brand, Steph and Emily used a combination of design right and trade mark protection.

Also, this helped them create a unique product look and gave them exclusive rights to their brand name, Tutu by You.

Tutu by You used IP protection to stand out from the competition and also ensured their brand would be recognised.

Hear more about Tutu By You and their journey: Tutu by you (ipaustralia.gov.au).

Please note: Case studies are examples of the way some businesses have chosen to manage their IP. These stories don’t provide advice and your experience may be different.

IP Australia’s resources

To discover more about how embracing intellectual property rights can be a pivotal move for your small business, check out more IP Australia resources such as:

  • Webinars: Learn more about IP rights through webinars to protect your brand and creations effectively. Watch the video below for more information.
  • IP Basics Guide: Explore an easy-to-understand overview of IP rights and best practices for managing and protecting your assets.
  • Case studies: Read about Australian businesses that have worked with the intellectual property system to protect and commercialise their ideas.