What do you think is the greatest invention in history? Maybe electricity? How about the humble refrigerator, or the internet? And let's not overlook the good old wheel... 

How about the worst ones? You might argue gunpowder has had a lot to answer for. There's also probably a very good reason why motor-powered roller skates never really took off...

Whatever your viewpoint about the merits of such inventions, they can often be legally protected. Other original creations like books, films and plays may also qualify for protection - as well as brand names for products and industrial designs.

The law recognises that their originators have rights to the "intellectual property" contained in the concrete expression of their idea. These rights are designed to prevent copying or use without permission from the owner.

So if you write a pop song, your original lyrics can benefit from this type of protection. Equally if you design a new bicycle, you can challenge someone who copies the design without your consent.

How do I get protection? Who do I talk to?

If you have come up with a new idea, designed a new product, or are planning to set up a new business to commercialise your invention, you may want to get some legal advice from a specialist before you go public. It is particularly important to do this if you want to file a patent or industrial design claim.

It is also important to check that no-one else has had the same idea and already protected it; a specialist advisor can help you to search for earlier rights and advise you how to avoid conflicts.

Patent and trade mark attorneys are specialists in this type of work.  They can advise you what legal protection is available and help you to put it in place. As a first step you can  visit IPReg - the independent body which regulates these specialist advisors. This has a handy guide to protecting your intellectual property rights and will help you to get started.

If you then decide to consult a specialist you can find out more about how to find one and how IPReg regulates their activities