Intellectual Property – an Overview
So, what is intellectual property (IP), anyway?
In general terms, IP describes a product of the human mind that the law will protect from unauthorized use by others.
That sounds pretty abstract, we know. It will be easier to understand when we get into specific types of IP, which you can learn about via the links below.
Just like other types of personal property (your car, your TV, your prized carved coconut collection), you can buy, sell, “rent,” and sue to protect your IP.
Unlike other types of personal property, IP has some special characteristics:
- It’s not tangible – you can’t touch it.
- You can license (“rent”) the same IP over and over and simultaneously without reducing its value.
Tangible and Intangible
IP is kind of like a stock certificate. Yes, you can touch the paper that a share of stock is printed on, but that’s not where the value lies. The paper itself is almost worthless. The value is in the right that the certificate represents – the right to claim a share in the company.
Similarly, you can touch a book, but IP rights (in this case, copyright) protect the words rather than the paper. Destroying the book doesn’t destroy the IP rights in the way that totaling a car would destroy its value.
You can sell IP rights outright, just like you’d sell a car or a piece of land.
However, it’s more common for IP owners to make money via licensing.
Licensing IP is like renting or leasing. It gives the licensee (the party using the IP) the rights to do something with it for a period of time, usually in exchange for money paid to the licensor (the party that owns the IP). At the end of the license period, the licensee can’t use the IP any more.
Types of IP
The basic types of IP are:
You can click on the links above to learn more about each.