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Intellectual property law

Australian law protects intellectual property by recognising different categories including copyright, patents, trade marks, registered designs and trade secrets.

It can be difficult to prove that an idea was yours, so you must be careful to protect your intellectual property, right from the start.

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property is often defined as legally owned, intangible property that is the creation of a person’s mind.

In other words, it’s an idea that has value and is usually the product of a person’s creativity or their expertise.

Common forms of intellectual property include literary works (for example, books and articles), artistic works (for example, photographs, logos, graphic designs, works of art), sound recordings, films and television productions, lyrics, advertisements, training manuals, inventions and devices, trade secrets, and product and service branding.

How to protect your intellectual property

The type of protection you need for your intellectual property will depend on what it is and how you wish to use it.

Copyright law

Australian copyright laws apply automatically to a work as soon as it’s created. But for some forms of intellectual property, you need to take extra steps for legal protection. These steps are often time critical. Your protection strategy will depend on whether you can register the intellectual property.

Trade secrets

Trade secrets are a form of intellectual property that can’t be registered. They are commercially sensitive ideas that help you in business and that you wish to keep secret to have a competitive advantage. To protect your trade secrets, you need private non-disclosure agreements with your employees, suppliers, investors, or anyone else who may have access to your trade secrets.

Trade mark

On the other hand, you may want to use a trade mark as a unique way to brand your business. You’ll need to register the trade mark to deter anyone else from using it.


If you have a new and useful invention or idea, you’ll need a patent if you want to protect it and reap the commercial benefits.


Design rights protect the shape or configuration of a commercial product and are used to prevent unauthorised copying of an original design. Designs should be registered to obtain full legal protection

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Why choose DBH?

We’re Adelaide’s intellectual property lawyers

Trade marks, patent issues and copyright

Protection of domain names and confidential information

Licensing and enforcement options

Expert opinions and advice

Frequently asked questions

Australian copyright laws and regulations allow the owner of an original work to deal exclusively with that work.

Works are usually in the forms of visual images, music, written work or moving images. Dealing with the work may include reproducing, performing or recording. Copyright laws and regulations don’t protect the ideas themselves. Protection happens when they are recorded or documented in some way. In other words, protection is in the expression of the idea.

Copyright is a form of property, so someone else may pay for the right to deal with the work. This is also known as licensing. In this way, the creator can earn an income from the work, even when the creator isn’t commercially exploiting it. Licenses allow the creator to maintain copyright ownership. For example, the composer of a piece of music who gives a musician permission to perform the music in public. Where there’s a breach of copyright, also known as a copyright infringement, there are various options for enforcement.

A trade mark is a sign used to distinguish an aspect of your business from your competitors.

It’s also known as a badge of origin. It can be an important part of business branding. It may be a logo, slogan, colour, smell, shape, picture, packaging or sound. Your business may have multiple trade marks.

By registering a unique sign as a trade mark, you get more options for enforcement. This can be a potent marketing tool for many businesses: for example, the Coca Cola logo, Cadbury’s use of the colour purple, the label on a jar of Vegemite. These trade marks are all distinctive and closely associated with their products.

Registering a trade mark is a different process and has different consequences from registering a business name. In our experience, the two are often confused which can leave the brand exposed to potential competitors. You should seek legal advice to make sure that you’ve taken all the necessary steps to protect every aspect of your business branding.

If someone uses your registered trade mark without your permission, it’s known as trade mark infringement and you have the ability to take legal action.

Patents are rights granted to protect inventions or discoveries: for example, devices, substances, methods or processes.

Before the granting of a patent, there are special requirements that must be satisfied. For example, the invention or discovery must be new and useful in some way. The person applying for the patent must be able to show that there’s a commercial use for the product.

A patent offers significant protection within Australia. For the life of the patent, the owner gets exclusive rights over the invention or discovery. This is also known as a monopoly. These rights allow the owner to make money from the intellectual property during the patent term, including being able to license the patent to another party. Depending on the type of application, the patent term will last 8 or 20 years.

We recommend using a patent attorney to prepare patent applications, due to the specialised work involved. We have established relationships with expert patent attorney firms.

What’s next?

Get in touch with us if:

  • You’ve got intellectual property that needs protecting
  • You’re considering licensing your intellectual property rights
  • You’re considering purchasing licensing rights
  • You believe someone has infringed your intellectual property rights

We’ll organise an obligation free first interview, provide you with the right advice and work out the best strategy to protect your idea, your business and you.

All you need to do is pick up the phone or send us an email.

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