What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property is defined as: “A product of the intellect that has commercial value, including copyrighted property, such as literary or artistic works, and ideational property, such as patents, appellations of origin, business methods, and industrial processes” (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2009).

Under intellectual property law, the holder of one of these abstract products has exclusive rights to it. Intellectual property rights constitute exclusive rights to a creative work, and give inventors exclusive rights to their inventions, allowing inventors to share their information rather than keep it a secret.

Intellectual property rights help promote economic growth by incentivizing inventors to put their inventions out on the market. Industries not relying on intellectual property protections are estimated to produce roughly 72% less value per added employee than industries with intellectual property protections.

Without intellectual property protection, inventions could be copied many times over, removing the incentive for inventors to put the time and money into inventing things in the first place. On the other hand, if intellectual property laws are too rigid, monopolies could form as a result of inventors charging too much and making too few of their inventions. This manipulation of supply and demand can be very damaging to a society’s economy. Therefore, it is important to strike a good balance in intellectual property laws between the interests of the inventor and the interests of society.

Today, it is more important than ever for an inventor to protect his or her intellectual property so that others can’t replicate it and make money off of it. This is especially true with the widespread use of the Internet—many inventors are developing virtual or digital as opposed to tangible products. But both virtual inventors and tangible-goods inventors need to give careful consideration to intellectual property rights, as not doing so could wind up costing them thousands or even millions of dollars.