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Intellectual property

This page explains what the subject of intellectual property covers, gives an overview of the material the British Library holds for this subject, and advice on how you can find and use it. It also gives details of current activities for developing the collections for this subject.

Intellectual property concerns the ownership and protection of ideas, of creativity and of inventiveness.

Intellectual property (IP) is the term used to describe the things which an individual creates or invents and which can be owned in the same way that any kind of physical property can be owned.  In most jurisdictions the creators of intellectual property can seek protection to prevent the unauthorised use of their creations.

There are four principal ways of protecting IP:

  • Copyright  is used to protect the written word, art, music, sound recordings, software and film and tv broadcasts 
  • Designs protection is applied to the visual appearance or eye appeal of a product
  • Patents protect the technical and functional aspects of products and processes
  • Trade marks are used to protect the words, devices , shapes, smells and sounds which distinguish particular goods or services  from one another

Collection overview

The British Library’s intellectual property (IP) collection is one of the best in the world.  It comprises patent specifications, official gazettes and journals covering patents, trade marks and designs, name and subject indexes and many other sources.

We have been collecting IP documentation since the 1850s and have built an extensive collection of material from almost every active intellectual property authority.  In a great many cases these collections date back to the period when individual authorities first began to publish IP documentation.

If you want to find information on an old British patent, you may have to visit us, but from 1890 much of the information can be searched free online. We have prepared a brief guide to how to do it.

The information specialists in our Business & IP Centre at St Pancras will help you use the intellectual property collection.  

The Centre offers regular Beginner's Guide to Intellectual Property workshops, which are free of charge.

Further information

Business & IP Centre Reference Team
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7454
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7453