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Intellectual property: tools for protecting your ideas and patent search

Intellectual propertyWhat is intellectual property and how do you protect it? How do you search for patents online? In this article you will find a series of tools, which will give you background information for protecting your ideas and conducting independent patent search.

Horizon 2020 - a guide to intellectual property protection

When it comes to intellectual property, it's important to have an overview of the different instruments you can use to protect your ideas. Before choosing the most suitable IP system for your invention, it's also essential to know what is already protected. You can find different online platforms for seeking patented inventions.

> Intellectual property - a guide to bring your ideas to the market

What is intellectual property

Intellectual property (IP) is a result of creative efforts from the human intellect; the creations of the minds have an intangible nature, which can be protected through intellectual property rights (IPRs).

There are various types of IPRs:

  • unregistrable: copyright and related rights, literary and artistic works, databases, etc;
  • registrable: industrial property (trade marks, patents, utility models, industrial designs);
  • soft IP: trade secrets, know-how, confidential information.

IPRs are exclusive rights and allow your organisation to prevent competitors from using your intangible assets.

Industrial property

Industrial property foresees different tools for protecting your ideas:

  • patents and utility models for inventions,
  • industrial designs for innovative designs,
  • trade marks,
  • other rights, such as geographical indications,

These tools follow three principles:

  • territoriality: in general, the exclusive rights are only applicable in the country or region in which a patent has been filed and granted, in accordance with the law of that country or region;
  • conferred rights: an IP right grants to its owner a monopoly on the product of the mind protected;
  • duration: IPRs grant a monopoly on the intellect creation for a limited amount of time depending on the type of right that is protected.


A patent is a title providing the inventor with the exclusive right to prevent others from using his invention. You can fill in a patent application for any invention concerned with the functional and technical aspects of products and processes.

The protection lasts until 20 years after the registration.

In general, an application filed before your National Patent Office (NPO) must be accompanied by:

  • a specification containing a detailed description of the invention,
  • one or more claims,
  • any drawings referred to in the description or claims and an abstract
  • the required filing fee.

By filing an international application, patent protection can be obtained in each designated states amongst 148 worldwide. PCT applications may be submitted: to your NPO, to the EPO, or to the WIPO. The EPO grants patents having the effect of a national patent in designated countries.

The European patent with unitary effect will grant a title that is going to be valid throughout the 26 European countries, once it will be activated.

Intellectual property - counterfeiting costs EUR 60 billion every year

Utility models

A utility model is an exclusive right granted for certain inventions, such as inventions in the mechanical field. It may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers a new and useful machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter, or any new useful improvement thereof. Utility models do not exist in all EU Member States and utility model protection cannot be obtained at EU level.

In general, the protection lasts between 6 and 10 years after the registration.

Industrial designs

An industrial design refers to the right granted to protect the original, ornamental and non-functional features of a product that result from design activity. Industrial design rights protect the appearance of a product, which results from attributes such as its shape, colours or materials.

The protection lasts until 25 years after the registration. You can apply for design registration:

  • at the National Intellectual Property Office (NIPO),
  • at the EUIPO in Alicante;
  • at the WIPO in Geneva.

Trade marks

A trade mark is a sign, or a combination of signs, used in trade to identify and distinguish the goods or services of one enterprise from those of another.

The protection lasts 10 years after the registration. You can apply for trade mark registration:

  • at your National Trade Mark Office,
  • at the EUIPO.

By filing an international application, you can protect your trade mark in each states member of the Madrid system. Applications may be submitted: to your National trademark Office, to the EUIPO and to the WIPO.


Copyright protects literary and artistic works, such as books, music, paintings, sculpture, and films. It informs others that the author intends to control the production, distribution, display or performance of his/her work. Copyright is granted automatically, with no need for formal registration. 

Anyway, most countries have a system to allow for the voluntary registration of works.

Generally, protection lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator.

Soft IP

Soft IP refers to the intellectual assets which are not included in industrial property or in literary and artistic works, but have an important value for organisations, such as: know-how, trade secrets and confidential information.

Patent search

The main online databases for patent search are provided by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the European Patent Office (EPO).

United States Patent and Trademark Office

The USPTO's patent database collects full text for patents issued from 1976 to the present and PDF images for all patents from 1790 to the present. Patents may be searched in the USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database (PatFT).

You can customize your search on all or a selected group of fields of a patent, thanks to different tools available: Quick SearchAdvanced Search and Patent Number Search.

World Intellectual Property Organization

PATENTSCOPE is the patent search system provided by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) that allows you to access millions of patent documents. The search interface is available in 9 languages and you can conduct various types of search:

  • Simple Search, with 8 predefined search fields available;
  • Advanced Search, it is the PATENTSCOPE expert search interface that can be used to create complex search queries using an unlimited number of terms;
  • Field Combination search, it can be used to structure a more targeted search using specific search criteria in any search fields.

The PATENTSCOPE search system has also a specific toll - Cross Lingual Information Retrieval (CLIR) - which allow you to expand your search by including patent documents in your result list that we disclosed in a foreign languages.

European Patent Office

Espacenet is the European Patent Office's online system for patent search; it offers free access to information about inventions and technical developments from 1836 to today.

You can conduct Smart search, Advanced search and Classification search. The service does not support automated searches (robots) and will deny access to any robots it identifies.