Intellectual property (IP) refers to a range of different, legally enforceable rights that arise from the productive new ideas you create. It can be an invention, logo, design, brand, or the application of your idea.

On this page:



Trade Marks

Plant Breeder's Rights


Circuit Layouts

Trade secrets or confidential information




Patents give the owner the exclusive right, during the term of the patent, to exploit (e.g. sell, make, hire, use) the invention and to authorise another person to exploit it. Standard patents have a maximum term of 20 years, which can be extended for pharmaceuticals.

An invention must be novel, inventive and useful to qualify for patent protection and an application for a patent must satisfy a number of criteria under the legislation. Patents can provide protection for a wide range of the potential outcomes of a collaboration between a research organisation and a business, including new medical treatments or devices, mechanical devices, electronics, chemicals, instruments and biotechnological inventions.

More information on patents is available at:



A design registration protects the overall appearance of a product including the shape, configuration, pattern or ornamentation, which, when applied to the product, gives it a unique visual appearance. Design registration is often used for protecting the design of packaging or clothing, but can also be used for a wide variety of goods such as electronics, tools, cars and other vehicles, building materials, furnishings and sporting goods.

A registered design gives the owner exclusive commercial rights to use, sell or license it for up to ten years. In order to register a design, it must be ‘new’ and ‘distinctive’. This means that it must not be too similar to any design that has already been published anywhere in the world.

Designs can be a useful form of protection for the results of a collaboration project if the appearance of a new product will differentiate it in the market and create a commercial advantage.

More information on designs is available at:


Trade Marks

A trade mark registration provides a way of identifying the trade source of goods and services and differentiating one business from another.

Under the Trade Marks Act 1995, a trade mark must be capable of distinguishing the goods or services of a trader from those of other traders. For example, it cannot be a common term in the particular field or a descriptive term, as other traders would also wish to use such words in relation to their own goods or services. It also must not be too similar to an earlier trade mark. Once registered, a trade mark can be renewed indefinitely and can become an increasingly valuable form of IP over time.

A trade mark registration may be relevant for a collaboration project that results in the commercialisation of a new or improved product or process and a brand is developed for the purposes of marketing the product or process. It may also be relevant if a new business results from the collaboration project.

More information on trade marks is available at:


Plant Breeder’s Rights

Plant breeder's rights (PBR) protect new plant varieties and give the owner a commercial monopoly for a period of time, which includes the right to propagate, sell, import, export and stock the plant material.

PBR protection applies for 20 years for most plant species and 25 years for grapevines (Vitis vinifera) and trees. It may be a relevant form of protection if a collaboration project relates to the development of a new plant variety.

More information on PBR is available at:



Copyright protects rights in literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, sound recordings, films, television and sound broadcasts and the typographical arrangements of published editions of works.

Copyright applies to the format or expression of the material, not the ideas in the material, and gives the owner the right to copy, publish, communicate (e.g. broadcast or make available online) and publicly perform the protected material.

Copyright can be important to protect collaboration outputs such as:

  • documents, including project plans, research methods, reports, diagrams, test results and presentations
  • photographs, sketches, plans and schematics
  • software, including source code and multimedia
  • film such as demonstration videos or animations of processes
  • sculptures and models, such as prototypes
  • audio recordings such as dictated research notes.

More information on copyright is available at:


Circuit Layouts

A circuit layout is a two-dimensional representation of the three-dimensional location of electronic components in an integrated circuit.

Circuit layout rights automatically protect original layout designs for integrated circuits and computer chips. While these rights are based on copyright law principles, they are a separate form of protection.

The owner of an original circuit layout has the exclusive right to copy the layout in a material form, make integrated circuits from the layout and commercially exploit the layout in Australia, which includes importation, sale, hire or distribution of a layout or an integrated circuit made according to the layout.


Trade secrets or confidential information

Be careful about disclosing your idea

If you are thinking that your collaborative project might result in a patent, design or plant breeder’s right, be aware of publicity. Publishing or disclosing your idea in any form may jeopardise your ability to claim these rights.

If you do have to talk to others about your idea, use a confidentiality, or non-disclosure agreement (NDA), to prevent them from disclosing your idea without permission. NDAs and confidentiality agreements are legally binding contracts. If you disclose confidential information to another person under a confidentiality agreement, they are required to keep that information confidential and not misuse it.

View the IP Toolkit Model Confidentiality Agreement.