International intellectual property law refers to a set of laws that govern the creation, protection, sharing, and use of intellectual property (IP) in the global context. IP is intangible property created through mental work, such as an invention, creative work, design, or idea. Since it is non-physical, IP can be easily used or implemented in multiple countries. It is common for IP issues to arise because IP laws can vary significantly from one country to another. However, there are organizations that seek to provide global IP protection by establishing international IP laws.

What Is Intellectual Property?

IP refers to any creation, invention, innovation, or discovery. It gains protection through the issuance of different forms of rights, including patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. In general, IP must be somewhat unique in order to be eligible for protection.

Why International IP Laws Are Necessary

In recent years, global business has grown tremendously and the advent of the internet has made information accessible to people around the world. Fortunately, many countries have established global laws to provide international protection for all kinds of IP. For instance, judges in China are beginning to form an informal case system to learn what other judges have done in regards to IP protection. While they do not have precedents to refer to, they are starting to develop one.

How to Protect IP Overseas

Many small businesses have difficulty protecting their IP rights overseas because they do not know how to obtain, protect, and enforce such rights in foreign countries. Some of the things that these businesses should do include:

  • Working with a legal expert to devise an IP protection strategy
  • Developing comprehensive IP rights language for licensing or subcontracting
  • Performing thorough background checks on prospective foreign partners
  • Registering U.S. copyrights and trademarks with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • Obtaining and registering copyrights, patents, and trademarks in the most important foreign markets, especially those where IP rights are commonly violated

Due to their territorial nature, trademarks and patents must be registered in every country where protection is needed. For instance, a U.S. trademark or patent does not provide protection in another country.

Those who wish to know how to apply for a trademark or patent in a foreign country should contact the IP office in that particular country. The website of the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) has the contact information of most IP offices around the world. However, the process of applying for patents in multiple countries is streamlined by the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). Creators who have applied for patents with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) can simultaneously seek protection in no more than 143 countries.

As a result of the Madrid Protocol, it is now easier to apply for trademarks in multiple countries. Those who have filed trademark applications with the USPTO are allowed to concurrently apply for trademarks in no more than 84 countries.  The website of the USPTO contains information about applying for international trademarks under the Madrid Protocol.

In most countries, it is not necessary for creators to apply for copyrights in order to obtain copyright protection. However, registration is highly recommended because it offers a number of additional benefits, including proof of ownership. The U.S. does not have copyright relations with every country in the world, but it has formed agreements with most countries. These agreements ensure that the copyrights of U.S. citizens and the citizens of the other countries will be honored.

Examples of Global Laws Protecting IP

International organizations, conferences, and treaties have adopted international laws to provide global IP protection. Some examples of major events that have contributed to better IP protection around the world include:

  • 1886 Berne Convention – People have been concerned with IP issues since a long time ago. As one of the earliest treaties relating to IP, the 1886 Berne Convention sought to make IP rights recognized in all the countries that took part in the convention.
  • 1994 TRIPS Agreement – The TRIPS agreement was established to ensure that participating countries would include protection and remedies for IP violations as part of their national laws.
  • 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty – The purpose of the WIPO Copyright Treaty was to update past treaties so that they would be more effective in dealing with online copyright infringement.

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