What is Intellectual Property?

IP LawIf someone asked you about Intellectual Property, would you know what they were talking about? Would you think it was a smartly built house? Maybe one of those smart phones? You would be wrong if those were your guesses. Intellectual property has to do with creations of the mind. A painting by Van Gogh would be Intellectual Property. The invention of the telephone is Intellectual Property. The name Hershey Chocolate is Intellectual Property. The Twitter bird image is Intellectual Property. There are so many different things that can be considered Intellectual Property that it can get a bit confusing. Can an idea be Intellectual Property? You bet it can! An idea is intangible property.

How did this concept of Intellectual Property come about? The term wasn’t used until the 19th century. By the late 20th century, most of the world became familiar with it. You might think IP was a product of American ingenuity, but it was North Germany that can claim its birth. Two separate entities, the Paris Convention and the Berne Convention merged in 1893 to create the United International Bureaux for the Protection of Intellectual Property, giving the term legitimacy. This organization moved from Berne to Geneva in 1960 and was followed by the World Intellectual Property Organization, an agency of the United Nations. It wasn’t until this time that Intellectual Property term began to be used in the United States.

It is encouraging that things created in someone’s mind are considered their property. We don’t think twice about considering a tangible item a piece of property; a car, a house, furniture, computers, equipment, a book, etc. You know they are your property. If someone were to come and take them, you would be able to file a police report stating they were stolen. The law is there to protect you from thieves. Think about the person who invented the technology that operates your computer or the author that wrote that book. If someone were to claim that they wrote the book or they came up with that technology, it is the same thing as stealing and would be very hard to prove if there were no Intellectual Property laws. For this reason, there are patents, copyrights, trademarks, industrial design rights and trade secrets. These are proof of IP and can protect the inventor, author, and designer from having their ideas stolen.

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