What is Intellectual Property?

A single lightbulb

You may be asking, what exactly is intellectual property (IP)? 

According to the UK Gov.uk website, “Intellectual property is something unique that you physically create – an idea alone is not intellectual property. For example, an idea for a book is not intellectual property, but the words you’ve written are.” 

How do you know what actually constitutes IP ownership? If you created it, bought the rights for it, or have a brand that could be a trademark, you could own IP. 

Why does IP matter? If you want your invention or creative work to reach a wider audience and/or plan to develop it further in the form of a start-up company, for example, you must make sure that your IP is properly protected under the appropriate part of IP law. 

What types of IP are there?  According to the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), there are 5 types: 

Copyright: the rights that creators have over their literary and artistic works (such as books, paintings, film, sculpture, computer programs). 

Patents: an exclusive right granted for an invention, with the right to decide whether or not others can use the design. 

Trademarks: a sign capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one enterprise from those of other enterprises. 

Industrial Designs: the ornamental or aesthetic aspect of an article. A design may consist of three-dimensional features, such as the shape or surface of an article, or of two-dimensional features, such as patterns, lines or colour. 

Geographical Indications: signs used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities, a reputation or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that place of origin. Most commonly, a geographical indication includes the name of the place of origin of the goods. 

How do I find more advice on IP?  The University takes very seriously its responsibility to properly manage IP arising out of research, as set out in its Regulations. As a global leader in university spinouts, it also provides excellent infrastructure, support networks and resources for creators and innovators, which include Oxford University Innovation and the IP Rights Management team. 

OUI is a wholly owned subsidiary of the University who support the protection and commercialisation of IP. You are strongly advised to discuss matters relating to IP with OUI at an early stage (e.g. Not the day before your paper is published!). The OUI team are also happy to discuss general IP-related questions and offer hot-desk facilities (including online) across the University.  The University’s IP Rights Management team work closely with OUI and help to decide IP rights where parties outside of the University have been involved in, or supported, the creation of the IP. 

Resources and Reading 

Oxford University Innovation (OUI) has a wealth of information on their website. Here are some quick links to specific topics: 


Where to get advice on IP 

Come and see OUI at one of their hot-desk drop in locations across the University. You are welcome to turn up and they will be happy to talk with you. they do sometimes get booked into meetings while they’re at a hot-desk, so if you want to be sure of finding them when you get there, do get in touch first. 

Want to learn more about Intellectual Property at the University and hear from the experts themselves? We hold 'Understanding Intellectual Property' online talks each term for staff and students to gain a better understanding on the subject and to get their questions answered. Click the link below for more information. 

Understanding Intellectual Property