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What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property is the collective term for a number of specific legal areas. It relates to having a right to a non-material thing. These rights give the owner an exclusive right to manufacture or sell a product, to use the product's name or to duplicate a work. The most well-known intellectual property rights are trademark rights, patent rights and copyright.


A trademark is a symbol that sets your products or services apart from those of your competitors. This symbol could be the name of your product or service but may also be a logo or shape of - or packaging for - a product, such as the Coca-Cola bottle.

The Benelux Office for Intellectual Property is the official body for the registration of trademarks in the Benelux.


A design is the outward appearance of a product or of part thereof. A design has to be new and have an individual character.

The Benelux Office for Intellectual Property is the official body for the registration of designs in the Benelux.


Everyone is entitled to have an idea. In principle, therefore, it is impossible to protect ideas. However, it often makes sense to record a creation date, for example to prove that you are the author of a copyright-protected work or that you are the person who devised a format for a TV gameshow (NB. Such format protection is only possible under certain circumstances). Another example is where you are creating a design or invention, and during the initial phase prior to design protection or copyright protection you are concerned that someone might steal your idea.

You can record a creation date at the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property, using the so-called i-DEPOT. An i-DEPOT is a legal means of proof.

Trade names

The trade name is the name that a company trades under in the marketplace. The right to a trade name is established by being the first party to use it. It is a good idea to register your trade name with the local Dutch Chamber of Commerce (in the Netherlands) or with the company section (the 'ondernemingsloket') or the Kruispuntbank (in Belgium) or le Registre de commerce et des sociétés (in Luxembourg). The right to a trade name is restricted to the territory in which it is known.


A patent (in Dutch: ‘octrooi’) is an exclusive right to an invention that means that you can prevent someone from commercially exploiting your invention. A patent is a useful weapon that will help you stop other parties hitching a free ride on the success of your invention. Patents also give you a stronger hand in your dealings with financiers and future partners. However, a patent does require a substantial financial investment.

All patents contain information on the applicant and inventor, along with a description of the invention. All patents all over the world are used to describe innovative products and processes. This allows users to find answers to such questions as:

  • Does my invention already exist?
  • What products and techniques are there already?
  • Who are my potential customers and suppliers?
  • What are my competitors up to?
  • Who are my potential (commercial) partners and collaborators?
  • How do I decide on a strategic innovation policy?


Copyright gives the creator of an original 'work of literature, science or art' the exclusive right to publish and/or duplicate it. For example, if you have written a book or created a work of art, you will want to prevent others from publishing or duplicating your work without your permission. Copyright is established automatically as soon as a work is created, provided that said work is original.
Ancillary rights protect performances by performing artists, producers of phonograms, first recordings of films and broadcasting organisations.

Plantbreeders' rights

Plantbreeders' rights give the plantbreeder exclusive rights to cultivate and trade in a new and protected plant variety. A plantbreeder can apply for plantbreeders' rights for cultivated materials for each new variety that is a member of the plant world. The Board for Plant Varieties handles the granting of plantbreeders' rights and related matters.