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Types of intellectual property

If identified and used correctly, intellectual property (IP) can be a small business’s most valuable asset. There are two basic types of IP – registered and unregistered. It’s important to recognise their differences because this knowledge can inform what steps you want to take.

Registered IP is only protected in – and recognised by – the country it’s been registered in.

Registered IP is only protected in – and recognised by – the country it’s been registered in.

As its name implies, this is a form of IP that’s been registered with a national IP office like the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ).

IPONZ website (external link)  has more detail on each IP type.

It includes:

  • Registered trade marks — A brand name or logo with the ® symbol, eg Trade Me®
  • Designs — The appearance or shape of a product design, eg Flight Plastics’ food and horticulture containers.
  • Patents — Typically a new product, process or material. The easiest way to think of these is an invention, eg Fisher & Paykel Healthcare’s respiratory devices.
  • Plant variety rights — A new type of plant, eg a gold kiwifruit or new apple variety.
You do not need to file an application to use the ™ symbol.

You do not need to file an application to use the ™ symbol.

Although not registered with a national agency like IPONZ, these still offer legal protection and can help protect secret information.

It includes:

  1. Unregistered trade mark – A word or logo with the ™ symbol. This offers limited protection, but can be a useful option to help establish your presence in a fast-moving industry.
  2. Trade secrets – Examples include recipes and customer databases. The most famous example is probably the recipe for Coca Cola. An urban legend says only two Coke executives know the secret recipe.
  3. Secrecy agreements – Contracts that keep valuable information safe. These may also be called confidentiality agreements or non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). When developing a new technology, a company will ask staff and contractors to sign an agreement not to steal their idea.
  4. Copyright – This applies to owners of original work, such as paintings, songs, lyrics, writing and film. In New Zealand, as soon as a work of this type is created, copyright is automatic. Even so, it’s a good idea to stamp your work with the © symbol, the owner’s name and date.

The IPONZ website (external link) has more detail on each IP type.


Case study

Whose photos?

Freelance photographer Dana plans to update her online gallery of wedding shots and food photography — a mix of commissioned and contract work. She checks her business files for client copyright or permission agreements. After hearing horror stories from fellow photographers, Dana has recently been very careful about documenting these. 

But in her first few years, she didn’t always do this. This is important because it’s generally assumed the person who pays a photographer is the first copyright owner.

Where Dana finds agreements – which give the client ownership – she asks permission to use the photos and files the correspondence. Where no agreements are in place, Dana checks with these previous clients to see if they’re OK with her intended use of the photos.

To prevent unauthorised use of the images, Dana publishes only lower resolution photos and watermarks each one with a copyright indicator.

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