Intellectual Property Rights: What Are They?

Intellectual property rights are the rights that people have to anything they come up with in their mind. A content creator has sole rights over a creation for a set time.

What Is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property (or IP) is an intangible creation that a person or business owns. The law gives the owner rights and privileges over the creation. These rights protect the owner, stopping others from using the creation without permission. This protection lasts for up to 20 years from the date of the patent application.

Intellectual property exists as a concept to mirror physical assets. A person or business can own property. They should also have the right to own inventions of the mind. The concept is so important that most developed countries offer some form of intellectual property rights.

Why Is Intellectual Property Important?

In the business world, intellectual property is more important than ever. The knowledge-based economy offers financial rewards to companies that leverage intellectual property well. That's why companies have become so careful about enforcing all rights involving it.

Intellectual property isn't something that a company can display in a balance sheet. The market generally reflects consumer awareness of its value through stock price.

A company with an average balance sheet but strong stock price likely has great IP assets. For example, Amazon struggled to make a profit for years. It still had a great stock price due to the strength of its intellectual property.

Many powerful companies rely only on innovation and knowledge to support their businesses. Examples include companies like Microsoft. Its ideas are the main thing it has to offer.

Each of Microsoft's products is an intellectual rights extension of an idea. That's why the company must fight to defend those ideas that other people might try to steal. They also sue people who might be stealing Microsoft's intellectual property.

When properly used, intellectual property also encourages the transfer of technology. Companies like Microsoft enjoy benefits such as joint ventures and licensing agreements in foreign countries. These international parties also might want to make direct investments in Microsoft and its intellectual property. Microsoft may also want to reciprocate.

What Are the Types of Intellectual Property?

Several types of intellectual property exist. The most popular ones are:

  • Copyrights: These give content creators the right to control literary and artistic works.
  • Patents: Governments grant exclusive rights to a creation or an invention. A patent is powerful. It gives the owner the right to decide how other people can use the invention.
  • Trade Secrets: These secrets are competitive advantages that would cost a business if other companies could copy them. Items in this category include specific manufacturing processes and special recipes.
  • Trademarks: This is a notification sign showing that a good or service is distinctive in the eyes of the law.
  • Geographical Indications: These are signs placed on goods to show a specific quality. The location of the sign has a positive association with the product. Examples are Belgian waffles, Kona coffee, and Darjeeling Tea. All of these indicators add value to the product, which makes them intellectual properties worthy of protection.

What Are the Main Areas of Intellectual Property Rights?

The law focuses on two main areas of IP rights. Copyright and all copyright-related issues are one category. These copyrights involve the arts.

Books, movies, computer apps, video games, sculptures, paintings, television shows, plays, and music all fit into this group. Even live performances of existing works qualify for copyrights.

The general rule is that the creator of one of these things owns a copyright until 50 years after death. The goal of the law is to make people want to create things. It also tries to reward them when they do so successfully.

Industrial property is the other main area of IP rights. These rights generally cover new solutions to standing problems. The most common types of industrial property are:

  • Designations of Origin: This right is for when the area of manufacturing becomes key to an item's value. Examples include Belgian waffles, Napa Valley wines, and Swiss cheese.
  • Industrial designs: This right is for anything that stimulates innovation or new technology.
  • Inventions: This right protects anything that either has a patent or is in the process of getting a patent.
  • Trade Secrets
  • Trademarks

The federal government tries to protect industrial property. The goal is to promote innovation. The creation of new technologies is the favored method of innovation. Patents also protect trade secrets and industrial designs.

How Do Patents Work?

The federal government created the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to oversee patents. This agency offers three kinds of patents. All of them protect intellectual property for a set period. The USPTO awards the following patents:

  • Plant Patent: This type of intellectual property patent is for people who either discover or create a plant capable of asexual reproduction. The patent applicant must prove the ability to repeat the asexual reproduction.
  • Design Patent: An inventor receives this patent for adding an ornamental element to an existing invention. In other words, the innovator changes the appearance or design of something to add more value to it.
  • Utility Patent: This is the best and most powerful patent. It's also the one that the USPTO rewards most often. This patent is for actual innovations and inventions. Anything with a specific purpose that has value is eligible for a utility patent, as long as no one has invented it before.

An inventor's intellectual property doesn't guarantee a patent. Instead, the person must go through the patent application process. Otherwise, someone else could take the same idea and patent it, thereby claiming the intellectual rights. Because this process is complex and time-consuming, you might want to hire an intellectual property attorney to help.

How Much Does Intellectual Property Drive Business Success?

American industries that prioritize intellectual properties employ more than 45 million people. That's out of 150 million total jobs in the United States. Protecting jobs in the intellectual property sector affects almost a third of all working Americans.

The impact on the American economy is even greater. Jobs in the intellectual property sectors pay 46 percent more than other jobs. These are some of the highest-paying jobs in the country. That's why protecting intellectual property rights is so important to the government.

How Does the Law Apply to Intellectual Property Rights?

Differences exist between physical property and intangible creations of the mind. The government wants to encourage creative people to keep creating. Laws support this goal.

The United States Constitution has an intellectual property rights clause. Many laws stem from it. The writing is in Article I, Section 8. Congress limits the scope of the original law with the Commerce Clause. It gives them the ability "to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes."

The official government agency for intellectual property is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This group issues and protects intellectual property claims.

Patents and trademarks are slightly different under the law. The federal government regulates all patents. State and federal officials can rule on trademark claims. Trade secrets rulings occur on the state level and fall under the jurisdiction of unfair competition laws.

What Are the Flaws With Current Intellectual Property Laws?

The historic changes of the technological era have revealed flaws in these laws. The current system was put in place just around the turn of the 20th century. That's when inventors like Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison were getting patents for their inventions.

For example, a person who gets a patent for a test to detect a disease often has the same kinds of rights as a person who invents a cure for a disease. The way that patent assignments work, you either get one or you don't.

That's why either person could get a patent and later sue for intellectual property breach. Obviously, the person who cured the disease should have something of greater value. Current law doesn't allow for that, though.

Rapid technological advances and the changing global economy are forcing businesses to look at intellectual property in different ways. Companies like Tesla and Apple are exploring, expanding, and exploiting their IP rights to the full extent of the law.

Countries are also paying more attention to intellectual property. One invention can single-handedly change a country's fortune. That's why many laws are territorial, while international negotiations can grow combative. The different IP rights and laws in countries add to the problem.

China, for instance, is the focus of U.S. efforts to protect IP rights. Ninety percent of products seized at the U.S. border are made in China.

Another issue with intellectual property laws today is that they don't encourage a collaborative environment. The person or business who wins control of intellectual property rights gets everything. The system rewards people who choose not to work together by giving them total control.

Do you need help understanding your intellectual property rights? It's a complex industry, and a mistake could prove devastating. You can post your legal need on UpCounsel's Marketplace. Many of these highly qualified attorneys have experience with intellectual property law.