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What is intellectual property?


Intellectual Property (IP)

IP can be defined as products of innovative and intellectual or creative activity and can include inventions, industrial processes, software, data, written work, designs and images.


Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

IP can be given legal recognition of ownership through intellectual property rights (IPRs) which also enable people to earn recognition and/or financial benefit from what they have invented or created. Examples of IP that may be developed in the NHS include: training manuals, clinical guidelines, books and journal articles, software packages, applications (APPs), new or improved designs, medical devices, equipment, new uses for existing drugs, diagnostic tests, and new treatments. IPRs which are most relevant to the Trust include:


1. Patents (inventions)

Patents protect inventions, for example a novel compound for therapeutic use, a new use for a known compound, or a new type of medical instrument or device. A patentable invention is a product or process which is:

  • New (also known as novel);

  • Involves an inventive step;

  • Capable of industrial application; and

  • Not a subject matter which is excluded from patent protection by the law


2. Copyright (original content)

Copyright protects original content (also known as ‘works’) such as literary works, software, photographs, films, and music. ‘Literary works’ can include such things as annual reports, website content, guidance notes, and blog entries, and ‘software’ of course has huge application in the health industry.


3. Design rights

A design right can protect the appearance of all or part of a physical product. However, it does not protect design concepts or drawings and methods of making the product. These may be protected by other IP rights such as patents or copyright.


4. Trademarks (brands)

These protect brands and other signs which identify a business – for example works (e.g. Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust), letters (e.g. NHS), and stylised logos (e.g. the blue and white “NHS” logo). 


5. Confidential Information (trade secrets and know-how)

This protects valuable information kept or received in confidence, such as know-how and trade secrets. Even if a patent cannot be obtained for an invention, it is possible to retain some degree of protection for the invention by maintaining it as a trade secret. Since the value of confidential information is maintained for as long as it is kept secret, whereas a patent has to be made public and gives monopoly protection only for up to 20 years, it can be preferable to protect some inventions as trade secrets.

Read our Innovation and IP policy here or for more information please contact:



01296 41 8124

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