What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property is a term used to describe the ownership of things which were created by the owner’s mind. Just as ownership of an object gives one property rights in relation to that object, so too does ownership of intellectual property give one property rights in relation to that intellectual property. In the same way it is unlawful for somebody else to use tools you own without asking for your permission, so too is it unlawful for somebody else to use your intellectual property without your consent. Both of these acts would infringe your property rights; it is merely the physical existence which differs. The concept of intellectual property is the application of traditional property principles to intangible, yet valuable, creations.

Intellectual property law is an umbrella term, concerning itself with the definition and enforcement of these intellectual property rights, which historically originated independently of each other. They are separated into three main categories: copyright, patents, and trademarks. There are other rights which do not fall neatly into these categories. For example, design rights,which protect the specific shape and appearance of a product, share characteristics with copyright, trademarks, and even patents, but are often grouped with copyright for simplicity.

Copyright protects original authorial works. The scope of what copyright protects is virtually unlimited, but some common examples are books, music, photographs, and videos. Trademarks protect commercial identifiers. These are generally specific and distinctive words, graphics, or images used by a particular commercial organisation in relation to the provision of a particular good or service. Patents protect novel inventions with an industrial application, i.e. new inventions which serve a practical purpose of some kind.

Each of these categories protects different things in different ways. The type and duration of protection is different. Generally-speaking, most intellectual property will fall into only one of these categories.