Your Guide To Unregistered IP Rights In The UK

Written by | June 28, 2023

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) plays a crucial role in today’s knowledge-based economy. In the United Kingdom, individuals and businesses generate a wide range of creative works and innovations. While many people are familiar with registered intellectual property rights such as patents and trademarks, there exists another category of protection known as unregistered intellectual property rights. In this blog, we will explore the concept of unregistered IP rights in the UK, their significance, and ways to safeguard your creative works without formal registration.

Understanding Unregistered Intellectual Property Rights

Unregistered intellectual property rights refer to legal protections automatically granted to certain types of creations without the need for formal registration. Unlike registered rights, which involve a specific application process and examination by a regulatory body, unregistered rights arise by virtue of creating and investing effort and skill into the work itself. Let’s delve into some of the main types of unregistered IP rights recognised in the UK.

Sidenote: In addition to the rights outlined below, in the UK we also recognise “unregistered trade mark rights”. You can find more information about these here: Unregistered Trade Marks In The UK: What Protection Do You Have?


Copyright is the most common, important and versatile of the unregistered IP rights. It provides automatic protection to original literary, artistic, musical, and dramatic works, as well as software, photographs, and other creative expressions. In the UK, copyright arises as soon as the work is created and fixed in a tangible form, such as writing it down or recording it. Although it is not mandatory to display a copyright symbol (©), doing so can help deter potential infringers and reinforce your claim to ownership.

Dive deeper into copyright protection:

Design Rights

Design rights protect the visual appearance or shape of a product. In the UK, there are two types of design rights: unregistered design rights (UDR) and registered design rights. UDR grants automatic protection to original designs (protecting the shape and configuration of a design) for up to 15 years, while registered design rights provide enhanced protection (protection extends to the complete appearance of the product; including its lines, contours, colours, materials, texture and shape) for a maximum of 25 years.

Dive deeper into design rights:

Database Rights

Database rights protect substantial investments made in creating, verifying, or presenting the contents of a database. These rights apply to databases that demonstrate a significant investment of time, money, and effort in their creation. While not as widely known as copyright or design rights, database rights can be valuable in industries where the compilation and organisation of data hold significant commercial value.

Dive deeper into database rights:

Trade Secrets

A trade secret can be any confidential information held by a business. It may have some commercial value because it is secret (e.g. the Coca-Cola recipe), and a business has taken reasonable steps under the circumstances to keep it a secret. Examples include things like customer lists, internal business information and technical information and know-how. Every business is likely to have trade secrets.

Dive deeper into trade secrets:

Benefits & Limitations Of Unregistered IP Rights

Unregistered intellectual property rights provide several benefits, including:

  • Automatic Protection: Unlike registered rights, which involve a formal application process, unregistered rights arise automatically upon creation. This means you don’t have to navigate complex legal procedures or pay fees to secure protection.
  • Cost-Effective: Since there is no registration requirement, unregistered rights can be a more cost-effective way to protect your creations. This is particularly advantageous for individuals and small businesses with limited resources.
  • Immediate Protection: Unregistered IP rights grant immediate protection, allowing you to enforce your rights against potential infringers without delay.

However, it is important to note the limitations of unregistered IP rights:

  • Difficulty in Enforcement: While unregistered rights exist, enforcing them can sometimes be challenging, as they may require proving ownership and originality. Registering your IP can strengthen your position and provide stronger legal remedies.
  • Limited Duration: Unlike registered rights, which often have longer durations, unregistered rights have relatively shorter periods of protection. For instance, copyright protection typically lasts for the creator’s lifetime plus 70 years, whereas unregistered design rights only last for 15 years.
  • Limited Geographical Coverage: Unregistered rights may offer protection within the UK, but they may not be recognised or enforceable in other jurisdictions. If you have international interests, registering your IP may be necessary for broader protection.

Safeguarding Your Unregistered IP Rights

While unregistered IP rights are automatic, there are steps you can take to strengthen your position and safeguard your creations:

  1. Document and date your works: Keep a record of your creations, including dates, to establish evidence of your ownership and the originality of your work. This can be helpful in case of any disputes in the future.
  2. Mark your works: Although not mandatory, marking your works with the copyright symbol (©) and including your name and the year of creation can serve as a visual reminder to others of your rights.
  3. Non-disclosure agreements: When sharing your creations with others, consider using confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements to protect your ideas and prevent unauthorised use or disclosure.
  4. Monitor and enforce: Regularly monitor the use of your creations and take prompt action if you discover any infringements. Seek legal advice to explore the best course of action, which may involve issuing cease-and-desist letters or pursuing legal remedies.


Unregistered intellectual property rights offer automatic protection for various creative works and innovations in the UK.

By understanding the different types of unregistered IP rights and their limitations, you can take proactive steps to safeguard your creations. While unregistered rights provide immediate protection, consider the benefits of registration for broader and stronger IP protection, particularly in international markets.

Remember, consulting an intellectual property lawyer or specialist can provide invaluable guidance tailored to your specific circumstances, helping you navigate the complexities of intellectual property rights effectively.

All of our lawyers are experts in unregistered intellectual property rights. If you want to discuss this more and learn what’s right for your business, why not fill in the form below to request a free consultation?

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