What are intellectual property rights?
rights are the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds. They usually
give the creator an exclusive right over the use of his/her creation for a certain period
Intellectual property rights are customarily divided into two main areas:
(i) Copyright and rights related to
copyright. The rights of authors of literary and artistic works (such as books and
other writings, musical compositions, paintings, sculpture, computer programs and films)
are protected by copyright, for a minimum period of 50 years after the death of the
author. Also protected through copyright and related (sometimes referred to as
"neighbouring") rights are the rights of performers (e.g. actors, singers
and musicians), producers of phonograms (sound recordings) and broadcasting organizations.
The main social purpose of protection of copyright and related rights is to encourage and
reward creative work.
(ii) Industrial property.
Industrial property can usefully be divided into two main areas:
- One area can
be characterized as the protection of distinctive signs, in particular trademarks (which
distinguish the goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings) and
geographical indications (which identify a good as originating in a place where a given
characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin). The
protection of such distinctive signs aims to stimulate and ensure fair competition and to
protect consumers, by enabling them to make informed choices between various goods and
services. The protection may last indefinitely, provided the sign in question continues to
- Other types of
industrial property are protected primarily to stimulate innovation, design and the
creation of technology. In this category fall inventions (protected by patents),
industrial designs and trade secrets. The social purpose is to provide protection for the
results of investment in the development of new technology, thus giving the incentive and
means to finance research and development activities. A functioning intellectual property
regime should also facilitate the transfer of technology in the form of foreign direct
investment, joint ventures and licensing. The protection is usually given for a finite
term (typically 20 years in the case of patents).
While the basic social objectives of intellectual property
protection are as outlined above, it should also be noted that the exclusive rights given
are generally subject to a number of limitations and exceptions, aimed at fine-tuning the
balance that has to be found between the legitimate interests of right holders and of
You should be aware that while many countries have similar Intellectual Property Rights
laws, you should also research each country's specific laws and understand their
requirements. Additional information on country specific Intellectual Property
Rights is available in Country Studies.