Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) is an umbrella term used to refer to the object of a variety of laws, including patent law, copyright law, trademark law, trade secret law, industrial design law, and potentially others. These laws provide exclusive rights to certain parties and many of them implement government-granted monopolies. Copyrights, for example, generally allow only one party to make copies of a work.

Critics of the term argue it should be avoided since it implies that the product of the intellect is subject to standard forms of property law, when the actual laws involved are extremely different. Other critics argue that the entire concept is invalid, since it tries to group many things that actually have very little in common, and thus leads to fallacious reasoning through over-generalization.


Among the laws considered to be “intellectual property” laws:


  • Copyrights apply to creative and artistic works (e.g. Books, movies, music, paintings, photographs, and software) and give the copyright holder the exclusive right to control reproduction and modification of such works for a certain period of time
  • Patents are granted for new, useful, and non-obvious inventions and give the holder an exclusive right to commercially exploit the invention for a certain period of time (typically 20 years from the filing date of a patent application)
  • Trademarks are distinctive signs which distinguish the products and services of different businesses and give the trademark holder the right to prevent other people from selling works which appear to be made by them
  • Industrial design rights provide for the exclusive production of a form of appearance, style or design of an industrial object (e.g. Spare parts, furniture, or textiles)
  • Trade secrets (a.k.a. “confidential information”) are secret, non-public information concerning the commercial practices or proprietary knowledge of a business and their public disclosure is sometimes illegal


Patents, Trademarks and Design Rights are often referred to more specifically as industrial property.