How to get it right with intellectual property as a freelancer

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, intellectual property refers to all creations of the human mind, including inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; symbols, names and images used in commerce. Intellectual property, known shorthandedly as IP, is the term for a person's original ideas or concepts that have been expressed in one way or another. It refers to all works that are the product of novel or inventive thought. 

In essence, a person who invented a thing has the sole right of ownership over that thing for a specific period. This right includes the right to reap its use and sale rewards. These are known as intellectual property rights (IPR).

In the context of freelancing, the creative work done by a freelancer in the course of his work is recognized as intellectual property. Freelancers often have to offer intellectual services to clients in the form of manuscripts, graphic and web designs, artworks, photographs, software development, long or short-form content, press articles, tutorials, and so on. These are generally known as intellectual property and should be protected from use by other persons without permission.

This article will provide basic information about intellectual property and how to protect your work from infringement as a freelancer.

Significant aspects of intellectual property

Intellectual property is an umbrella term for all creations of the human mind expressed in a tangible form. Expressions include oral or written words, sketches, pictures, and software products.

The following are the major categories of intellectual property:


This is perhaps the broadest aspect of intellectual property because of all the types of work it covers. Copyright is the right given to creators of literary works such as articles, essays, stories, poems, blogs, or social media posts. Copyright protects artworks, sculptures, films, photographs, designs, videos, voiceovers, etc.

This aspect of intellectual property is most applicable to freelancers because most freelance jobs fall into one or more of these categories.


A trademark is a distinctive sign capable of differentiating a brand of products from another. A trade name is the most commonly used type of trademark, but trademarks can also include a logo, set of words, smell, sound, colors, etc. Most importantly, they identify and distinguish a product from similar ones made by other manufacturers. For example, Nike products are clearly recognizable with the white tick. Therefore, other manufacturers of sports equipment are precluded from using the sign because there is a likelihood that purchasers will be confused between the two brands, resulting in a loss of sales, income, and patronage.


Patents give intellectual property owners the exclusive legal right to prevent others from the reproduction, use, or sale of an original invention for a given period of time. Patents are usually granted in respect of novel products, techniques or modifications, giving the manufacturer the sole right to replicate and sell the creation.

Industrial designs

Design rights are similar to patents. The difference is that patents protect new inventions or techniques, while design rights protect the visual characteristics of creation rather than its function. In other words, industrial design rights focus on a product's aesthetic or visual design, not its utility. For example, Crocs, the makers of casual clog-like footwear, were awarded $650,000 by the courts when their design was imitated by another company, even though they called it by a different name and altered it slightly. The court ruled that Crocs alone had the exclusive right to sell that style of footwear and that industrial design laws thus protected this right.

Trade secrets

Trade secrets refer to the original formulae, processes, and procedures used by a creator to achieve a unique creation. It preserves the secret know-how, technique, or vital information used to achieve a particular business effect. These secrets have economic value and can be sold or licensed for financial gain.

Ways freelancers can protect their intellectual property 

There are basic steps freelancers must take to protect their intellectual property from unfair use. We have highlighted them below:

Through registration

Many countries have specific laws guiding the different types of intellectual property and how they can be registered. Apart from the copyright that applies automatically, other intellectual property must be registered according to stipulated laws within the country, so that the rights of the inventor can be enforced in case of any infringement. This may be an expensive procedure, but well worth it in the long run.

Protective agreements

It is a good idea for freelancers to enter into written arrangements between themselves and clients to protect their works, such as agreements for non-disclosure, secrecy, confidential disclosure, and proprietary information.

Detailed freelance contracts

Contracts between freelancers and their clients should contain specific clauses and terms that stipulate which party has the right of ownership, publication and sale, of the intellectual products created in the course of work, for what period, and to what extent.

Avoidance of joint partnerships

Joint partnerships make it difficult to ascertain who property rights in an intellectual creation belong to. Where freelancers must collaborate on a particular project, they must formally decide whether or not the product can be used for individual purposes, and other contributors must be fully acknowledged.

Brand protection technology

Several technologies exist to combat copyright infringement in the digital landscape. Encryption, for instance, prevents unauthorized access to digital content. It works by embedding a code into the digital content and provides decryption keys only through which the content can be accessed. This limits who has access to the work, the purposes and the number of uses. Other brand protection technologies include image recognition software to detect stolen images and text recognition powered by AI to detect stolen texts even if they have been paraphrased. Brand protection technologies work to protect online content like articles, reports, surveys, ebooks, and software from illegal reproduction.

Professional legal advice

A qualified IP lawyer can assist freelancers in protecting intellectual property through many legal services like drafting, reviewing, and amending legal contracts, conducting searches and filing applications for intellectual property registration, and representing clients in cases of intellectual property infringement or theft.

How Workee Benefits Freelancers

Freelance jobs may appear easy when compared to regular workers. But freelancers know the unique challenges they face in their work, like time management, multitasking, payment procedures, and intellectual property protection.

Workee exists to help freelancers make the most out of their time and their jobs. One of the ways Workee makes freelancing easier is through helpful and informative blog posts such as this. Here are some other ways.

  • Free Website: With the free website builder from Workee, freelancers provide a meeting place with clients without the time, stress, and costs incurred in coding and web development. Click here to set up your website in less than five minutes.

  • Booking and Scheduling: Workee helps you book meetings with clients and sends regular reminders to keep you prepared. Also, freelancers can schedule tasks and stay ahead of deadlines.

  • Automated Invoicing and Payments: With Workee, you can send automated invoices to prospective clients and receive payments for your services without market fees.

  • Video Call and Conferencing: Workee's video conferencing features simplify the collaboration process among freelancers so that joint tasks can proceed seamlessly. Also, freelancers can keep in touch with clients and employers as regularly as required.

Ihor, CEO at Workee

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