Issues in intellectual property can arise when there is a question regarding the ownership rights of the intellectual property in question or when infringement occurs. It's important to understand these potential issues, how to avoid them, and how to address them when they arise.

What Is Intellectual Property?

The first laws regarding trademarks were established in the English Parliament in 1266. The United Kingdom was at the forefront in terms of developing patent rights. It was also the first to establish copyright laws with the creation of the Statute of Anne in 1710. The UK has heavily utilized these intellectual property rights since they were originally created.

The concept of intellectual property applies to the results of the human intellectual process. Intellectual properties can be broken down into four basic categories:  

  • Copyrights — offer protection for various intangible assets, such as written works and artistic compositions.
  • Trademarks — protect things that identify the specific source of a service or good, such as symbols or names.
  • Trade secrets — protect things such as secret processes, methods for distribution, and confidential information.
  • Patents — provide legal protection for the creation of tangible items. 

Industrial property falls under one category of intellectual property. It protects things such as:

  • Industrial designs  
  • Geographical indicators  
  • Appellations of origins

Industrial design is comprised of the aesthetic or ornamental designs associated with a specific object. Geographical indicators normally represent specific physical origins of an asset. Generally, this concept identifies qualities that can be specifically attributed to the asset's place of origin, such as the location as the asset's origin. An appellation of origin is similar to a geographical indicator, but the object's features or processing must be exclusive to the geographical area.

Why Do Intellectual Property Rights Need Protection?

Similar to the need to protect your physical property, it's important to take certain steps to protect the rights associated with intellectual property. This creates an incentive to drive the invention of new things such as:  

  • Software  
  • Pharmaceuticals  
  • Music  
  • Movies

Continued innovation in areas such as these is important to the continued growth of the economy. It can even be argued that protecting intellectual property is more important today than ever before because of the costs often associated with innovations. 

Some drugs, for example, can cost several billion dollars to research, develop, and test before they can be produced on a mass scale. These costs are continuing to rise, even though emerging technologies are making the free dissemination and duplication of products easier than ever before.

Intellectual property protection is too complex and central to be left up to litigation under multiple national laws because of the fact that no two countries develop identical laws for the same cases. The concept of protecting intellectual property is also much too important to be a subpart of unrelated and difficult negotiations that take place in international trade. This is an urgent matter that has been progressing much more quickly than the vast majority of the world can keep up with.

Why Does Software Need Protection?

There have been steady gains on a global scale in terms of providing patent protection for software, specifically with countries such as Japan and the United States leading the way. However, there is opposition to this, which compares software to mathematical formulae and argues that neither deserves patent protection. Specifically, these opposing parties believe that offering patent protection for software will lead to an overall decrease in innovation in the technology industry.

The stakes of this debate are quite high. For example, upstart companies such as Ximian have been making attempts to have the rules that are commonplace in the software industry rewritten by taking rather unconventional steps. This includes giving away free software such as:  

  • Word processors  
  • Spreadsheets  
  • Email clients  
  • Microsoft Office clones

This is a problem for companies such as Microsoft that have built billion-dollar businesses on the premise that software is proprietary in nature and deserves to be treated as property. These same opponents argue that increasing the strength of software patents may create more potential for monopolies to be formed. This points to difficult issues that may be difficult to navigate in relation to the role of antitrust laws and intellectual property laws.

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