Monday, September 21, 2009

Untangling The Intellectual Property Knot

Understanding intellectual property is notoriously difficult. There's even a dispute about whether the term should even be in existence, since some feel it's an unnatural shorthand for many different areas of law that shouldn't be lumped into one category. Whether or that is the case, we're stuck with the term, so let's try to determine what is meant when those two words are bandied about.

At its simplest, the term "intellectual property" refers to the theory that there are exclusive rights over intangible artistic and commercial creations. Examples of artistic creations can include a song, a color, or even an idea for a film. All of these have, at one point or another, been debated as being worthy candidates for intellectual property. The other category, known as industrial property, is more closely aligned with patent law. This refers to new creations by people or firms that are designed to fulfill a particular utilitarian purpose.

Though intellectual property rights seem rather intangible and esoteric, they nevertheless have many important real-world ramifications. Industrial products such as drugs are subject to a temporary copyright, giving their creators a an exclusive, guaranteed revenue stream for a certain period of time. If that drug wasn't able to be temporarily copyrighted, the minute it was released on the market, that company's competitors could copy it and distribute it, sharing in the revenue without spending a dime on research and development. Obviously, that would do away with the financial incentive associated with the development of new products.

In the artistic realm, things get a little bit trickier, but still have an effect on the real world. Music piracy is an oft-cited example of artistic intellectual property rights being infringed. When a musician records a song and sells it, and pirates distribute that song illegally, those pirates are taking potential revenue away from the musician. Even though you can't hold a song in your hand, it's still a source of livelihood for that musician (and the record company which legally distributes it), which is why there are laws in place to protect the creator and distributor.

Obviously, this article just scratches the surface of an incredibly complex problem, but the abstractness of intellectual property becomes remarkably tangible when you are the one whose rights are being infringed. If that happens, don't hesitate to contact a quality intellectual property lawyer as soon as possible to reclaim the fruits of your labor.

By: Franklin Mowshowitz

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