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3.1 What is intellectual property?

Generally speaking, IP refers to any form of creative output – more specifically, a person’s ideas. ‘Property’ is a key term here. Like other forms of property (such as land, buildings, manufactured goods and handmade artefacts), IP can be owned, bought, sold, leased, inherited, etc. Today, IP is protected by laws generally known as IP rights (IPRs). These laws will vary from country to country but, to give you a useful example, here is what the UK Patent Office regards as the four main categories of IP:

  • patents for inventions
  • trademarks for brand identity
  • designs for product appearance
  • copyright for material (namely, literary and artistic material, music, films, sound recordings and broadcasts), including software and multimedia.

The World Intellectual Property Organization [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] website provides further information and a comprehensive overview of issues relating to IP and copyright. Their publication entitled What is Intellectual Property provides a useful synopsis.