The world would not exist as we know it without intellectual property. Intellectual property is essentially a product of someone’s bright idea. Unlike physical property which can be placed in a safe or fenced in to keep out trespassers, intellectual property is an intangible asset, and requires a different set of laws to protect the rights of the owner. Thus was born the concept of intellectual property rights, which you as a creator can use to protect your intellectual property from unauthorized or uncompensated use.
Intellectual property addresses a huge range of assets such as original designs, compositions, literature, and art as well as scientific discoveries and mechanical inventions. It may also apply for any process, method or formula that a particular company or business entity has pioneered. If you have ever made use of the image of a superhero on a t-shirt without permission from the artist or owner, for example, you would be in violation of intellectual property rights, specifically the copyright, and may be prosecuted.
The principles that comprise the legal backbone of intellectual property laws has its origins in Europe as far back as 1624, but it was only in the 20th century that the laws became widely adopted and enforced. In the US, it only came into common usage in 1980. Currently, it is overseen by the World Intellectual Property Organization as a United Nations agency.
There are several types of intellectual property rights. These include copyright, trademarks, industrial design rights, trade dress, trade secrets, and patents. When the creator or company produces a certain product such as a drug or engine design that is significantly different from other similar products, they can apply for exclusive rights to that product which if approved will bar any other person or company to use the same formula or design without the express permission of the rights owner. If permission is given, it usually includes a royalty agreement, where the rights owner receives a percentage of whatever the petitioner earns from the use of the formula or design.
Owning intellectual property rights is the impetus that drives many companies and individuals to invest heavily in research and development into creating products that have marketable applications because it has the potential for generating income. Imagine having the exclusive rights for a formula for a weight loss product that gives instant results with absolutely no side effects; it would make the owner millions, if not billions.