IP explained and tips from the experts

This infographic from the IGE | IPI website caught my eye, having recently visited Planet Swatch in Biel (bonus travel tip: it is worth a visit!).  More importantly, the clear and concise communication is indicative of how informative and well-structured the IGE | IPI website is (virtual travel tip: really worth a visit!!).  

I’ve spent a fascinating few days on the website and in this blog wanted to share:

  • an overview of intellectual property and
  • 5 tips for startups from the IPI experts. 


IGE ist das Eidgenössisches Institut für Geistiges Eigentum; conveniently IPI in the other languages FR, IT, RM & EN as L’Institut Fédéral de la Propriété Intellectuelle etc.  The mission they have chosen to accept:

We are the Swiss Confederation’s centre of competence for patent, design and trade mark protection, indications of source and copyright. We help innovators and creators to create value out of their ideas, thus promoting innovation, competitiveness, cultural diversity and social progress.

IPI’s mandate from the federal government is to inform concerned parties directly about intellectual property (IP) and to raise awareness of this subject.  To that end, the IPI website provides extensive information on:

  • the types of IP
  • how to register IP
  • a checklist for developing an IP strategy
  • an SME Portal
  • information workshops, training courses and more.  

IPI is your first point of contact for IP matters in Switzerland and beyond.



IPI partners with Swiss Startup Association to encourage, develop and connect start-ups in Switzerland, with a shared objective of strengthening the start-up ecosystem here.  A strong ecosystem positions Switzerland as an attractive location for start-ups and drives growth of the country’s innovative business landscape.

Irène Vogt-Liechti, Specialist Head of Training & Sponsoring at IPI explained:

Through our partnership with the SSA, we can reach startups directly and raise awareness of intellectual property rights.

Promotion of innovation is a key part of the IPI’s mission.  And that means protection of those innovations through IP rights is critical!

Switzerland has been the most innovative countryin the world for 13 years in a row now, according to the WIPO 2023 Global Innovation IndexThrough our partnership with the SSA, we want to contribute to more top results in the future.



Indicators of Source – simple designations which refer to origin (e.g. Swiss chocolate) can be used without authorization, providing origin can be proven and legally defined criteria are fulfilled (eg. a little Swiss flag on a product that is not manufactured in Switzerland could be considered a [foot] fault…..).  

Specially protected indicators of source are registered and products must meet requirements of the product specification (e.g. Tête de Moine or St. Galler Kalbsbratwurst).

Copyright – protects literary and artistic works but also applies to text of a website, its design or an ad photo etc. Protection is automatic from when a work is created, so no formalities or registration required.

Counterfeit & Piracy – counterfeit is an illegal copy of an original to imitate it; piracy is an illegal copy of a work without a licence (e.g., music, software, films).  Both are illegal

Counterfeit risk is more than the ‘designer’ handbags one can buy cheaply on the street in popular tourist destinations – we all know they are likely not genuine.  More insidiously, counterfeits can infiltrate distribution channels and be offered for sale at full price in the usual sales outlets. Such counterfeits damage revenues, profits, reputations and potentially health.

Trade marks – Any sign that can be reproduced graphically, such as names and logos of a company as well as products can be protected as trade marks in the Swiss Trade Mark Register for a filing fee and renewal fee (every 10 years).  

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) has agreed a centralized ‘Madrid System’ procedure to registered trademarks in over 125 countries in a single application.

Designs – the shape & form (i.e. exterior appearance of an object as defined by an illustration) can be protected if they are sufficiently different to existing ones.  There is a Swiss Design Register and application is required, with 5 yearly renewal (fees apply). The maximum protection in Switzerland is 25 years. 

Beyond Switzerland, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) has a process to protect registered designs in all member states; WIPO provides a centralized system for filing international design applications, based on the Hague Agreement concerning the International Deposit of Industrial Designs.  You can register up to 100 designs in over 90 contracting states, including EU, US, Japan, Korea and, importantly, Liechtenstein.

Patents – A patent protects an invention.  According to the law, this means it has to be ‘a new technical solution to a technical problem’.  A patent is granted for a maximum 20 years, with application and annual fees protecting the ‘invention’ as defined in the patent claims.

Beyond Switzerland, you can file a European or an international application with the relevant authorities, or, for CH or LI domiciled individuals and companies, you can file it with IGE | IPE and they will forward it to the relevant authorities.



  • Are your innovations and creations protected? Trade marks, patents, designs and copyright are industrial property rights which enable you to take action against any misuse.
  • Protect your inventions sooner rather than later – so no competitor beats you to it! Don’t wait until you have a problem, such as applying to register a trade mark and find you cannot use it.
  • Respect the intellectual property of third parties with your products and services. An infringement can mean a forced withdrawal from the market and liability for damages.
  • Do your research! Let yourself be inspired, clarify the novelty of inventions and find out what the competition is doing. You can find the public databases for this at the IPI.
  • Benefit financially from your intellectual property! You can sell trade marks, patents, designs and copyrights or release their use in return for license fees.

IGE | IPI is happy to answer your questions on protecting innovations and creations.

If you haven’t already ensured your IP – and all types of IP are protected in all required geographies – then now is the time.  Actually, it’s probably past time!  

IP is part of your company’s value – if you have protected it.  As Irène at IPI stressed:

Intellectual property is an often under-estimated asset.  Through our partnership with the SSA, we can inform startups how they can benefit from it.

You can find IGE | IPI on our SSA IP Desk.   


Author: Suzanne Leighton


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