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Demystifying intellectual property in social services procurement

Part of: Breakfast session Procurement news

AJ Park Law Principal Mark Hargreaves led a useful and practical procurement breakfast session last month on intellectual property (IP) in the context of social services.

We sometimes find that there is confusion about what IP is and who should own it when agencies work with social services providers, so we invited Mark along to give us some pointers.

IP is a collection of intangible property rights. Some can be registered - like trade marks and patents, and others are unregistered - like copyright and confidential information.

Mark recommends agencies take time in the beginning to identify what IP exists, and what IP is likely to be created, and then have discussions about ownership and access.

In the context of social services, Mark says “IP will mainly consist of confidential information and copyright, with trade marks occasionally relevant when, for example, discussing names of specific programmes.”

While government often seeks to own new intellectual property, almost all of the same benefits can be achieved by having a broad license to use the IP. “This can allow providers to continue modifying and improving their services …. to everyone’s benefit.”

Mark cautioned about joint ownership of IP, which people sometimes choose as a compromise, as it often complicates the position and may not work well for either the provider or the government agency.

In response to a question about co-design Mark suggested that there is a conversation about IP at the start of any co-design workshop. He suggested that in most instances as ideas are created, discussed and changed it will be difficult to identify any substantial IP which could be owned by one party or another.

Examples of IP in the social services context 

Trade marks

Organisation name and logo

Names and logos for specific products or services

Names and logos for programmes


New inventions for products, processes, formulations

Realistically, patents are unlikely to be hugely relevant in the social services context

Registered designs

The shape or visual appearance of products

Again, not likely to be hugely relevant

Trade secrets and confidential information

Information about how you run your programmes, processes, techniques and know-how that set you apart, data that you capture

It must be confidential and non-public for you to be able to control it


Reports, templates, images, video, audio, logos, software

Copyright only protects the expression of ideas and only protects against someone copying that expression