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What are the Different Types of International Property Law?

H. Terry
H. Terry

There are three main types of international property law. Two of these are physical types of property — real and personal property. The third is intellectual property. While many laws governing property rights depend on jurisdiction, there are organizations and treaties in place that seek to protect property rights at the international level.

Real property refers to the ownership of land and immovable objects, such as buildings, found upon it. A buyers of real property in any country must remember that when purchasing real property, he or she also becomes the new owner of any outstanding issues attached to it, such as bank taxes, structural faults, or even demolition orders. In order to avoid scams, it is highly advisable to hire a reputable local attorney when buying property in foreign countries, especially if the buyer is unfamiliar with the language.

Books on international law.
Books on international law.

In some countries, international property law restricts the amount of property foreigners can purchase; in others, investment visas gained through making substantial property investments can be a path toward legal residency. The defining feature of real property is its immobility; all physical property that is not attached to land and can be moved from place to place is instead known as personal property.

A courthouse.
A courthouse.

Both personal and real property can, in some jurisdictions, be considered community property. The concept of community property is derived from Roman Civil Law. Spanish law inherited this and, from Spanish law, it has been adopted by many Latin American countries as well as several U.S. states.

Community property law views property acquired during a marriage to be equally owned by both spouses. There are some exceptions to this but, when investing in places subject to community property law, prior agreements between spouses regarding the ownership of certain items must be signed. Otherwise, in the event of divorce or annulment, the property will automatically be regarded as jointly owned.

Intellectual property, which is not related to physical objects but rather to the ownership of ideas, tends to be more difficult to protect in international property law. While member countries of organizations such as the WTO have agreed to acknowledge certain types of intellectual property, it is common that legal persons must assert their rights in the different countries in which they operate. Even once asserted — through copyrights, trademarks, and patents — many jurisdictions do not actively enforce laws protecting intellectual property as strictly as they do those related to real property.

The UN's World Intellectual Property Organization seeks to regulate international property law with a focus on better establishing intellectual property rights. There are several organizations that operate with a similar regulatory aim, though the authority of none of these is recognized by all countries. Another well-known institution is The International Property Rights Index. This international property law watchdog evaluates the security of both physical and intellectual property rights in different countries.

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      Books on international law.
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