Intellectual property definition

Intellectual property in Australia is a form of legal protection for the results of creative or inventive endeavours – a reward for creativity and inventiveness.  Intellectual property gives the IP owner the exclusive right to use, and permit others to use, what is being protected – for example music, artworks, novels, inventions, trade marks.  These are the subject matter of the intellectual property.

Intellectual property is also called intellectual property rights, IP or IPR.

Intellectual property vs real property and personal property

Intellectual property protects intangible assets such as inventions, goodwill or music, which cannot be touched.  This is unlike real property, which protects land, and personal property, which protects physical objects. So, for example, in a book there are two types of property:

  • The property in the physical book – which is owned by the person who purchased the book; and
  • The intellectual property – the copyright – which is normally first owned by the author.

Copyright enables the copyright owner to prevent anyone other than the owner from copying the book without the owner’s permission.

Intellectual property – exclusive rights

Intellectual property gives the owner exclusivity over what can be done with its subject matter.  For business, this is a powerful commercial advantage in a competitive market.  The IP owner has the legal right to stop infringement of its intellectual property (unauthorised use).

Like real property and personal property, intellectual property can be bought and sold, left in a will and licensed (which is a bit like renting real property).  Licensing can monetise the IP.  For example, the owner of a patent can allow another business to use the patented invention in return for a royalty.  Potential investors in a business will often look to see what intellectual property the business owns when determining the value of the business.

Intellectual property in countries outside Australia

Most countries in the world have intellectual property rights, but the laws of each country are different.  Some types of intellectual property need to be registered and so, if the owner wants protection in a number of countries, they need to register in each of those countries.