The Sticky, Sweet World of Intellectual Property and Small Business

Last month, we marked World Intellectual Property Day by… well, not doing much of anything. Intellectual property, or IP, is a commonly overlooked area when it comes to small business and marketing. Often, small business developers are so focused on growing their business that they disregard places where they may be encroaching on other’s IP or leaving their own properties open to theft.  As intellectual properties are not tangible, physical assets, it is exceedingly easy to overlook. Yet, for small business, it’s vital to ensure your expanding business brand IP is secure for long term success.

So, what is Intellectual Property (IP)?

From your business name, logo, products, and various brand elements – your business may be rich with intellectual property. These properties work to differentiate your brand from your competitors, assisting you to build and keep building your small business. Consider any big brands – McDonalds’ golden arches, Nike’s swoosh, Disney’s typography – they are identifiable by their intellectual property. Due to their efforts in safeguarding those properties before their audiences came to recognize them, no competitor can even try to cash in on their success. As a small business owner, it’s important to remember the value of IP. However, intellectual property goes much deeper than just brand and marketing elements.

There are seven kinds of intellectual property recognised by Australian law. These include properties such as plant breeder’s rights, geographical indications, trade secrets and circuit layouts, small business usually involves the following four intellectual property types:


A patent protects how an invention functions, operates or works. IP patents work to protect inventions and new processes from theft or copy. It gives the patent holder exclusive legal rights to the invention for a specific period; including the technical details of the invention.

A classic example would be the Apple iPhone or Samsung smartphone devices. These two brands have consistently gone back and forth with patent lawsuits against each other since smartphones were invented.


A trademark essentially protects the brand – think logos, words, letters, numbers, colours, phrases, sounds, scents, shapes, pictures, product packaging, and/or any combination of these. Trademarks distinguishes particular trader goods or services from those of other traders. Trademarks are the bedrock of marketing.

An example of a trademark could be almost any brand logo you can think of. Even the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has one!


Copyright is an automatic legal right applied to original works such as art, music or literature. Computer programs, dramatic works, films, sound recordings and broadcasts are also included. An important thing to remember with copyrighted properties is that the original expression of ideas is protected, but not the ideas itself.

Copyright is probably the stickiest of intellectual property types, as there are a lot of grey areas to consider.

For example, you can not copy and paste an entire novel into a personal blog word for word, as this is stolen intellectual property. However, you can write and publish your own parody (or fan fiction) of that same story without issue. In fact, there is a whole community dedicated to the craft!


Registered design protects specific product designs, covering their unique visual appearance. Typically, this involves the shape, configuration, pattern or ornamentation of a certain product type that identifies it as a particular property. This IP does not cover the way in which the product works. This can be seen most often in the fashion industry, but also in household appliances and other devices.

An example of registered design could be Doc Martens 1460 boots or Airwair soles. The exact design IP configurations cannot be copied by other shoe brands, although there are similar offerings available.

Nicoh can help your small business brand pop

At Nicoh, we have a compact team of marketing, business, finance and digital professionals ready to take your brand to the next level. We can assist you to set up, maintain, or grow your business to where you want to be – from structure, payroll, design, and intellectual property registration.

Our team can design quality IP assets to set you apart from your competition. To lift your small business up today, contact us today for a free brand consultation.

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