If you register in the UK, you will be protected in the UK only. There are 45 classes of trade marks, for example “clothing, footwear & headgear”, “games, toys & playthings” and “transport”. Once registered, you can object if someone else tries to register (in the same or a similar class) a trade mark that is identical or similar to yours. You can take legal action against anyone who uses your brand without your permission. You can also sell, market, license or mortgage your trade mark. A trade mark is valid for ten years, and you can renew it.
A patent protects an industrial process or invention: the patent holder has the exclusive right to use, sell or manufacture the invention, and can stop others from doing so without permission. To qualify for a patent, the invention must be something that can be made or used; it must be new; and it must be truly inventive (not just a modification to something that already exists). In practice, these criteria can be hard to meet and a patent is the most difficult form of protection to obtain. Registration is expensive and can take up to five years to achieve. Like a trade mark, a UK patent will only protect you in the UK. You can sell, licence or mortgage it. However, it is only valid for a year and has to be renewed annually.
A simpler form of protection, and in some cases more appropriate than a patent, is to register a design. This means registering the look of a product: its appearance, physical shape, configuration (how different parts are arranged together) and/or decoration. Your application must be supported by illustrations – either photos, line drawings or computer-aided designs – and must clearly show which parts you want to protect. For example, you might want to protect just the design of an object, not the colour. The application process is potentially very quick and your design can be registered within two weeks if there are no objections. Registration enables you to prevent others from using your design for up to 25 years (though it has to be renewed every five years). It enables you to sell, licence or mortgage your design.
Copyright protects a work, provided its creation involved skill, labour and judgment. It applies to literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works; non-literary written works (for example, web content); sound and music recordings; film and television recordings; broadcasts; and the layout of published editions of written, dramatic and musical works. It is an automatic protection. There is no need to apply for registration and, while you can put the copyright symbol, your name and year on the work, this is not necessary – copyright will still apply without it. It is an international right, and protects you from a range of activities worldwide, including copying; distributing copies; performing, showing or playing your work in public; making adaptations of your work; and putting it on the internet. You can sell, licence or transfer your copyright to a third party, such as a publisher, and copyright can be passed by inheritance on your death. How long it lasts depends on the type of work. For example, copyright for literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years after their death. For broadcasts, it lasts for 50 years after the date it was first broadcast.