What are Intellectual Property Rights?

Alan Rankin
Alan Rankin
Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

Intellectual property rights are legal protections afforded to the owner of a patent, trademark, or other form of intellectual property. Intellectual property is a legal term for a creation that can be legally declared the property of a particular party, such as a work of art, an invention, or even a name. National and international laws have been established so that only the creator can own or assign rights to these properties. There is a wide range of material covered by such laws, and the term intellectual property serves as a catch-all to describe the field as a whole.

In art, intellectual property rights include the rights to sell, use, or make copies of a work of art or license others to do the same. This includes unique portions of the artwork, such as characters, titles, or storylines that can be adapted to other media, as in audio or movie adaptations. All of this falls under copyright law, administered by the Copyright Office in the U.S. and by the international Berne Convention in many other nations. Usually the creator of a work is the owner of the copyright and all intellectual property rights included therein. In some cases, creators may assign these copyrights to an employer, as work made for hire, or sell part or all of their rights in exchange for royalty payments or a one-time fee.

In design, similar intellectual property rights apply. For example, the architectural design of a building is the property of the architect, architectural firm, or the client, depending on legal contracts signed early in the design process. Unique design features, such as the distinctive spire on New York’s Chrysler building, can also be protected as intellectual property. These can be covered under copyright or trademark law, depending on the use and features of the design and local legislation.

Businesses can register trademarks to protect the names and designs of various products. In entertainment-related business, this can include the names and likenesses of popular characters owned by the company. These trademarks are distinct from the copyrights that protect stories or other creative works involving such characters. The business can then license these trademarks to other companies, secure that their intellectual property rights will prevent others from unlicensed usage. Trademark licensing can be a highly profitable enterprise for both companies when a popular trademark is involved.

Inventors can register patents to declare their intellectual property rights over their inventions. They can then license the inventions to manufacturing concerns or attempt to manufacture and market the inventions themselves. Either way, the patents will protect their intellectual property rights to the inventions, ensuring that no one else profits from their unique ideas. As with copyrights, patents will eventually lapse, but will usually last for the creator’s life and an additional period thereafter.

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      Businessman with a briefcase