Intellectual Property Explained

An IP Primer

Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and the symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce, to name but a few.IP law is the body of law that protects the interests of innovators and creators by giving them rights over their creations.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) divides IP into two broad categories:

  • industrial property — traditionally commercial/industrial rights, which include patents for inventions, industrial designs, trade marks, geographical indications and protection against unfair competition;
  • copyright — traditionally artistic/creative rights, which, in the past served mainly to protect literary and artistic creations, but which currently extend to more commercial/industrial creations, such as computer programs and satellite transmissions, among others.

The innovations and creative expressions of indigenous and local communities and access to, and equitable benefit-sharing in, genetic resources fall within the ambit of IP law. These areas of IP law are constantly changing due to rapid development of this body of law.

For an excellent outline of the complex subject of intellectual property, download the WIPO booklet Understanding Intellectual Property.

IP is ideas | Intellectual property is basically ideas, which develop through time.Something that starts off as simply a collection of thoughts, with some development, becomes a thing, product or real-world process, which, after further development, enters the world of trade and commerce. Notwithstanding the real-world result, product or process does not constitute intellectual property.Instead, it is the underlying ideas that are are and remain the intellectual property.

Intellectual property law recognises four important IP law types to protect the different interests in intellectual property arising during the development process outlined immediately above, including:

  • patents | patent law deals with underlying ideas — no other IP law type is available to protect underlying ideas — read more here
  • industrial designs | design law deals with the shape and patterning of industrially-produced articles and not with the underlying idea or functioning of the article — read more here
  • copyright | copyright law deals with the expression of ideas and serves to prevent unauthorised copying of copyright-protected works — read more here
  • trade marks | trade mark serves to protect the commercial branding of the product or process when it goes commercial — read more here

Do you have any further questions on Intellectual Property?

Do you have any further questions on Intellectual Property?

Do you have any further questions on Intellectual Property?