Frequently asked questions

These will help answer some basic questions – if in doubt consult your legal advisor or intellectual property expert.

1. What is intellectual property?

Intellectual Property (IP) is created when an idea takes some tangible form. IP can mean a brand, invention, design or other kind of creation. IP can be legally owned.

2. What sorts of intangible assets do we create?

A few examples of assets which embody IP that you may create and that support your work and enhance your reputation are:

  • Software, methodologies and databases that you use in mathematical modelling;
  • Databases, reports, plans, charts, diagrams and drawings that you compile to support your work or share with others;
  • Training that you develop for your people;
  • Your corporate logo, name and trade marks for products and services;
  • Equipment that your people invent to support their work.
  • Technical drawings and specifications;
  • Designs - for example for corporate clothing, engineering projects, or corporate public relations materials.

3. What are Intellectual Property Rights?

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) are legal protections available to an owner of IP which give the owner control over their IP.

The main types of IPRs are:

  • Copyright which protects material such as text, graphics, DVDs, software and broadcasts.
  • Database Rights which may protect the investment in obtaining, verifying or presenting the contents of the database.
  • Design Rights (registered or unregistered) which protect the visual appearance of products
  • Patents which protect technical inventions
  • Trade Mark Rights (registered or unregistered) which protect our brand names and logos

Confidential information may also be protected by legal agreements. Confidentiality is complex; consult your legal colleagues on how you may be able to use it to support your business.

Often different aspects of a creation are protected by a combination of IPR.

4. Who creates our intangible assets?

All your employees and any outside parties e.g. consultants or contractors whom you engage to do work for you.

5. Who owns our intangible assets?

The intangible assets created by your staff in undertaking their duties at work is usually owned by your organisation. The determining factor is the terms of their employment contract. You need to decide whether you need to own the intangible assets created for you by others, in particular suppliers you pay to do creative work for you. If you do, you need to ensure that your contracts assign ownership to your organisation. Speak to your procurement and legal colleagues.

In the case of information and documents created by civil servants and other officers or servants of the Crown, they are Crown copyright, which is owned on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen by the Controller of HMSO (the Director of Information Policy and Services at The National Archives External Link).

Works in Crown copyright are available for re-use by third parties under standard licensing terms, unless they qualify to be excepted from marginal cost pricing and the department has been accredited under the Information Fair Trader Scheme External Link.

6. What do we need to do to manage our intangible assets?

Regardless of what intangible assets (IA) you create you need to:

  • Clearly identify what IA you are creating e.g. software [X] software [Y] data set [Z] etc.).
  • Clearly identify who created each asset, and if created under contract, detail the contract used
  • Clearly identify any other IA that has been used in the creation of this new asset.
  • Clearly explain what your organisation needs to do with this asset and check you have the necessary permission and rights.

7. How much time will managing IP take?

Less overall if you manage it well from the outset. How much time it takes depends on when you start managing the intangible assets, what type and how much you have and how you need to manage it to support your business targets.

You will find you need a balance of time between:

  • setting up your organisational framework and educating your people, and…
  • troubleshooting problems you find that need solving in the short term

8. Public money paid for these things. Surely the purpose is to share them as widely as possible?

That's true to a large extent. Firstly, as a matter of principle, protecting your intangible assets is not about restricting access, it is about protecting your content and exercising a degree of control in access to those assets.

Policies and legislation governs the ownership and access to public sector information. These policies have been developed by the National Archives External Link and must be considered before embarking on commercialisation.

As the question suggests, in most cases it will not be appropriate to charge for the re-use of public sector information. In any case you will generally seek to encourage others to reuse your IA. Here, it is important to have the appropriate license which sets out clearly how others are able to use the intangible asset and their reciprocal obligations, if any.

You are advised to seek legal advice on drawing up a licence.

9. How do we give away/lose our intangible assets?

By not:

  • securing them in contracts with suppliers or partners;
  • licensing them under appropriate terms when you share things (e.g. data or software) with others;
  • making others aware of our rights e.g. by marking documents to indicate release conditions;
  • seeking statutory protection for them e.g by registering certain rights;
  • keeping inventions secret until protected/registered;
  • ensuring that staff understand that confidential information must be kept confidential;
  • enforcing rights against infringers.

10. What are the reasons we need to do this now?

Intangible assets (IA) management is one element of good business management. Not considering IA in your work risks damaging your organisation's finances, operations and reputation. By failing to secure and protect your IPR you run the risk of: wasting public money, not meeting your targets, and being involved in damaging disputes with others.

11. We need to buy something that may have intangible assets in it from another organisation, what do we need to do?

  • Identify what you need to do with the product you are buying (e.g. do you need to copy it, modify it, give it to third parties).
  • Then look at the contract with the seller (or licence from the seller) and check whether the terms permit you to do the things you need to do with it or not. If not you will need to renegotiate the terms.
  • Ensure your people clearly understand what they are, and are not, able to do with it if they need to use it.

12. Does the required approach to intangible assets depend on how much money we spend?

No. Even small amounts of spending may create important intangible assets that your organisation comes to rely on. You will need to decide how you prioritise your resources to manage the assets that are important to your business.

13. I think another organisation is using our intangible assets without our permission, what should I do?

Seek advice from your legal/IP department or from a specialist IP lawyer.

14. I think I have created some intangible assets. Where do I go for assistance in protecting it?

Seek advice from your legal/IP department or a specialist IP lawyer.

15. What is the position regarding public sector information?

Through government initiatives such as the data.gov.uk initiative, efforts are being made to encourage the re-use of public sector information. This is being achieved, in part, by making government datasets available free of charge through simple non-transactional licences, managed by The National Archives.

For advice on re-use policy, contact The National Archives External Link.


Reviewed 22 July 2010