Property is a resource of financial value and something that an organisation needs in order to do its work. Physical property includes things like buildings, furniture, transport, equipment, stationary, and cash – all things tangible and visible that are linked to a company.

Physical property needs to be protected to maintain the security, profitability and longevity of an organisation. It is important that employees understand what physical property is, and why it needs to be protected.

Understanding Physical Property
The main form of assets in most industries are physical assets or physical property. These are real items of value that are used to generate revenue for a company. The money that a company generates from using physical property is recorded on the income statement as revenue made.

Normally, physical property refers to things that may be liquidated in the event having to pay off debts. For example, physical assets belonging to a restaurant would include chairs, tables, refrigerators, and food.

Service-based businesses use physical property to facilitate the delivery of their service, such as having a space to work, tools that are needed for the service, and resources used to support the service. If you owned a dry-cleaning business, you would need washers, dryers, steamers, irons, tables, and racks to hang the clothes on – these items represent the physical resources of your business.

All types of businesses need physical property, even if a company is based online, the computers used to carry out the work count as an example of physical property.

Protecting Physical Property

Protecting our assets is more important than you may think. It is in everybody’s interest to make sure that this happens inside and outside of the workplace.

Good health and safety practice not only affect the employees, but also the equipment companies use, and the buildings they are working in – this can be done by carrying out regular portable appliance testing.

We have more devices available to us than ever before, which means there is more opportunity for others to get access to the company data on these devices. Smaller devices such as laptops and iPads should be locked away securely as the portability of these devices increases the chance of theft, loss and access. This can not only lead to a loss of profit in the physical loss of the technology, but the business data on the device could be lost too – and potentially end up in the wrong hands.

As well as being careful about the password protection of the company devices that we use at work and take home with us, we need to be vigilant about the documents we store on our devices and ask ourselves whether what we use our devices for is appropriate business use.

Being trusted with physical assets like a mobile phone, company car or credit card means that you have been trusted to use them wisely for authorised business use only. If you aren’t sure, you should always check. The same goes for any property in the office like a desk, a sofa, or an office plant! Take care of physical company property as if it were your own.

It sounds obvious but turning off any appliances and machinery when they are not in use increases their lifespan, reduces downtime for maintenance and saves on energy costs.

Property is a resource of financial value and something that an organisation needs in order to do its work. Intellectual property can set organisations apart from competitors and help maintain longevity and profitability, and this is exactly why it needs protecting just as much as the physical assets.

Employees are the brainpower behind intellectual property because they are the ones that come up with all the ideas such as brands, inventions, trade secrets and software.

Understanding Intellectual Property

To keep it simple, intellectual property includes the ideas and designs that a company has. Whilst physical property is the tangible aspect to the company, intellectual property is the intangible side to the company that makes them different to others.

Intellectual property is a bit more confusing than physical property when it comes to categorising it. If you have an idea for a book, that isn’t intellectual property, however, if you were to write it down, it becomes intellectual property that needs protecting.

Intellectual property can:

  • Have more than one owner
  • Belong to people or businesses
  • Be sold or transferred
  • Protecting Intellectual Property

    Lending a USB stick to somebody, with intellectual property contained within, poses many risks. The stick could get lost and intellectual property could be opened and saved on outsider devices. Intellectual property is confidential information and should be treated as such.

    Whilst protecting physical property can be a case of keeping it under lock and key, protecting intellectual property can be much more difficult because they are intangible. As a result, it ends up being a case of using documents and agreements as protection. By protecting your intellectual property, it means that you can take legal action against anyone that tries to steal or copy it.

    It’s important when circulating confidential information that it stays on a need-to-know basis. All parties involved in knowing this information need to sign a non-disclosure agreement. This is a legal contract that protects any non-public business information whereby the people in the know agree not to disclose it for a defined period of time.

    A patent gives exclusive rights to an inventor over their new invention for a limited time period. During this time, nobody else can make, use or copy the invention.

    A registered design protects the style of a product, whether that is its shape, product packaging or surface design. Patent and registered designs are similar, a patent covers a new invention whilst a registered design focuses on the look of a product.

    A trademark is a logo, words, or a combination of both, that represents a brand or an organisation. It helps to keep a brand unique and identifiable.

    Copyright gives creators of original work, certain exclusive rights. This law gives the owner of a work the right to say how other people can use it.

    When creating a business plan, it’s important to consider which assets need to be protected and how.

Copyright protects your work and stops others from using it without your permission. Unlike patents and trade marks, you get copyright protection automatically – there isn’t a register of copyright works in the UK and you don’t have to apply or pay a fee.

You automatically get copyright protection when you create:

  • Original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, including illustration and photography
  • Original non-literary written work, such as software, web content and databases
  • Sound and music recordings
  • Film and television recordings
  • Broadcasts
  • The layout of published editions of written, dramatic and musical works

You can label your work with the copyright symbol ©, but you don’t have to – whether you label it or not, your level of protection is the same.

Once you’ve created the work, you need to create a record of it in order to prove the date of creation and ownership. This can be done by depositing a dated copy with a bank or solicitor and keep a dated physical record of the work too – this all helps prove that the work is your own creation.

You deal with copyright every day. Each time you watch an online clip, listen to music, or watch a film – you are interacting with copyrighted material in one way or another.


The current copyright legislation in the UK is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. These laws lay out a framework of rules around how the protected work can be used. It sets out the rights of the owner, as well as the responsibilities of other people who want to use the work. You can do many things with your copyright work – copy, change or sell it, share it online or rent it to someone, as well as prevent other people from doing those things.

It is up to you to make sure your copyright isn’t breached. Moreover, if you choose to license the work you need to be clear what the conditions of use are to reduce the chances of legal problems in the future, should they arise.

What does it mean to have copyright?

For something to be copyrighted, it needs to be original and tangible:

Original: A product of your own skill and labour or intellectual creation. It can’t just replicate someone else’s work.

Tangible: It can’t just be an idea in your head, you need to have expressed that idea in a physical form.

If your work is copyrighted, it means that it stops people from:

  • Copying your work
  • Sharing copies of it
  • Renting or lending copies of your work
  • Performing, showing or playing your work in public
  • Putting it on the internet

This protection lasts for your lifetime in most countries. On from this, written, artistic and dramatic work is protected for another 70 years after death, and for photographs, the protection is extended to 25 years after death. Once copyright expires, anyone can use or copy your work.

Every country has its own copyright laws, but most countries will protect works in other countries in the same way they protect the work of their own citizens.

The following creations are protected by copyright:

  • Literary works such as books, blogs, articles, poems
  • Underlying musical score, composition, lyrics
  • Commercial music
  • Photographs
  • Artworks
  • Film footage

When you use or access the copyright work of another person, in most cases you will have to ask their permission. This permission can be in any form from an agreement to a license.

Think of a piece of finished work as an onion made up of lots of layers. Each layer is copyrighted separately in order to make the finished product. For example, a finished music album is a mixture of work from the songwriter, the record label, and the artist that designed the front cover – they all have rights in the final product.

Trade marks are the badges of origin for a company, they distinguish one trader from another. A trade mark is generally a word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.

By covering designs, words and phrases, trade marks protect a type of intellectual property. This can’t be confused with a copyright or a patent – patents cover inventions, and copyrights cover original artistic or literary work. They all cover intellectual property, but different types of intellectual property.

For example, if you invent a new type of vacuum cleaner:

  • A trade mark would protect the brand name
  • A patent would protect the invention itself
  • A copyright would cover the TV commercial to market the product

A reputable trader wants his products or services to have desirable and reliable qualities because it means that customers will come to regard the trade mark as a guarantee of quality.

How does it work?

First up you need to decide which types of goods or services you need to protect, have in mind future plans to ensure you protect all the areas your business might need.

You can find out if your trade mark is already taken by carrying out a search in the Business & Intellectual Property Centre, they have a database that is linked directly to the Intellectual Property Office.

Think about the geographical coverage you need. You can register a trade mark to protect you in the UK, throughout the European Union, Internationally or in individual countries.

Ensure your trade mark is used in the correct way or it could harm your company’s reputation because it is the mark that identifies your goods or service to consumers. Allowing your trade mark to become a generic name, like ‘aspirin’ or ‘escalator’ results in the loss of your trade mark – so be careful when you’re coming up with your name.

Qualities of a trade mark

Here is a list of qualities to a trade mark:

  • Used in commerce
  • Have fees paid as required to keep it in force
  • Must not become generic, such as a noun or verb in common usage
  • Must be identified as a trade mark by ® in some countries
  • A single word, logo, picture or a mixture of any of these

There are strict rules when it comes to trademarks:

  • A mark must not be descriptive, such as ‘sporty’ for sports clothing
  • A mark must not be deceptive, such as ‘silky’ for cotton goods
  • A mark cannot be a common surname or geographical name, like ‘Jones’ or ‘London’
  • A mark must not be confusable with any earlier registered mark – that is why the register is searched.

If you see someone infringing your trade mark, seek advice from a trade mark lawyer. Cases rarely end up in court, but that is the ultimate sanction of owning a trade mark. For a UK trade mark, fees are required every 10 years to keep a trademark in force.

The Register of Trade Marks is divided into 45 administrative classes of goods and services, trade marks are registered in one or more of 45 classes. There are 34 classes of goods and 11 for services. These classes group products that are deemed to be similar in function, and are identified by their number. For example, the registration of a trade mark for a range of gymnastic and sporting articles is classified by the trademark registry in class 28.

A patent is granted by the government to an inventor to stop others from making, using or selling the invention without their permission.

When a patent is granted, the invention becomes the property of the inventor. This means it can be bought, sold, rented or hired just like any other form of property or asset. Patents are territorial rights: UK patents will only give the holder rights in the UK and rights to stop others from importing the patented products into the UK.

Patents and registered designs are very similar, but patents cover a new invention whilst a registered design focuses on the protection of the look of a product.

How does it work?

A patent stops others from using your inventions. Alternatively, you can choose to let others use it under agreed terms. A patent also gives you the right to take legal action against those who might be infringing (stealing or using your invention) and to claim damages if this happens.

If you have an invention, you don’t have to get a patent to put it into practice, but once you release your invention into the public, there is nothing stopping people from copying it and by then you wouldn’t be unable to obtain a patent. It is up to the owner to take any necessary action to ensure an idea is not infringed.

It is worth noting that you make sure your invention is commercially viable before paying for a patent. In this case, keep your ideas secret until you have something a bit more set-in-stone. You can gauge an idea of whether your innovation has a reasonable chance of success by carrying out a patent search.

What qualifies for a patent?

For an invention to be patentable, your invention must:

  • Be new – This means it has never been made public in any way, anywhere in the world, before the date on which the application for a patent is filed.
  • Involve an inventive step – If you compared it with what is already known, it wouldn’t be recognisable to someone
  • Be capable of industrial application – Your innovation must be some kind of device, product or process which can be used in a practical, industrial activity

Decorative designs can’t be covered by a patent, but they may be entitled to design protection or copyright. Equally, discoveries, theories, and ways of thinking cannot be protected with a patent.

How long does it last?

For a new product, if you need to move quickly to capture the audience and make money, you can make an initial patent application – this gives you 12-months of breathing space. This application prevents anyone else from getting a patent that covers your invention, even if you never take the application further, it gives you 12 months of protection.

The strongest protection, however, is provided by obtaining a complete patent. Once the patent is granted you can prevent anyone else from manufacturing, importing or selling your patented product without your consent for 20 years.

If you are thinking about getting a patent, the process usually takes around two and a half years and you should approach the Intellectual Property Office to deal with your request.

The best way to keep something confidential is not to disclose it in the first place – keeping it on a need-to-know basis between a small group of people. If you want to keep something private, you should use a non-disclosure agreement (sometimes called a confidentiality agreement).

In some situations, you may have to tell people confidential information to get advice. It is important that you don’t assume conversations with advisors are automatically confidential, this is why an NDA is the safest way to keep your information private.

The parties you may need to share with could be:

  • Accountants
  • Banks
  • Financial advisors
  • Insurance brokers
  • Business coaches
  • A marketing agency

An NDA is a legally binding contract. It sets out how you share the intellectual property of a business in confidence. NDAs can cover:

  • Documents
  • Designs
  • Sketches
  • Analyses
  • Source codes
  • Marketing plans
  • Manufacturing processes

Your intellectual property solicitor can advise on confidentiality and draw up an appropriate NDA for you to use if you are the source of the confidential information. Always get people to sign the NDA before the information is shared – without an NDA, you are taking the risk that others could use your ideas or information without your permission.

As these agreements play such a vital role in protecting the future of a company, it’s important that you take an NDA seriously.

Terms of an NDA

You should be clear what your NDA covers, this could be as specific as protecting something marked as ‘confidential’, to a wider focus like covering the information you share in meetings or presentations.

A good NDA restricts the use of the ideas and information to a specific permitted purpose. Keep that purpose as specific as you can. You can widen the permitted purpose later, but you can’t narrow it.

You should be realistic. The person you are talking to might need to share or copy your information with others, whether that’s their employees or professional advisors. Make sure that these disclosures to employees and professional advisers are made in confidence.

Think about how long the confidentiality should last, 3-5 years is a common timescale. After the timescale has passed, they will be able to use and disclose your information. Once information is made public, an NDA can’t be enforced.

Make sure you get the right people to sign the NDA too, this could be:

  • A director of the recipient company
  • An officer of the recipient institution
  • Someone senior who has authority to give the undertakings in the NDA

Types of NDA

There are two types of NDAs – one way or mutual. A one-way NDA is used if you are the only one disclosing information (otherwise known as the disclosing party), a mutual NDA is used if both parties are sharing confidential information (in which case, the other party called the receiving party).

If you and the other party to the NDA are in different countries, the NDA will need to state which law governs the agreement. For example, England and Wales have a different legal system to Scotland, so if the NDA is spread between parties in Wales and Scotland, then you need to state which legal system the NDA is enforced with.