By Sarah Booth, Greater Manchester Academic Health Science Network (GM AHSN)

If you want to sell your medical device or service to the NHS you need to know how to protect your work. Intellectual property (IP) law is complex, but an essential part of your product development and your business growth.

You have access to several types of IP Right (IPR): Copyright, Design Rights, Patents and Trademarks. Each has its pros and cons, its own rules on the length of the protection applied, how it can be achieved, and how much it costs. It is likely that more than one of these types will apply to your business and individual product developments.


Copyright applies to original literary or non-literary work that has been produced in a fixed format, on paper or in electronic form, like in a book, on a website or a video.

• Is applied to written work and/or audio visual recordings
• Protects other types of written work like certain software
• Automatic — it doesn’t even need a copyright statement
• Also protected through international agreements e.g. the Berne Convention
• Copyright is a free right, though defending it may cost
• Length of protection varies between the differing formats
• Does not protect the idea itself — it protects the expression of the idea
• Using a copyright statement can create recognition and awareness of expertise

Unregistered Design Rights

Examples of work that this right protects functional and innovative designs, like medical devices or electronic circuitry.

• Is an automatic right and does not require registration
• Protects both 2- and 3-dimensional designs for a 3D product
• In the UK, designs may be protected for up to 15 years from creation (3 years in the EU)
• Free when applied, though defending it may cost

Registered Design Rights

This is a monopoly right used to protect the (aesthetic) features of a design, not the way it works, like a new shape for an inhaler or a design for a wheelchair.

• Not automatic, requires registration
• Can last up to 25 years, and is subject to renewal fees
• Registered Design Right protection application incurs fees
• Defending your registered rights will cost