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What Is Intellectual Property?

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Intellectual property (IP) is a generic term for the range of property rights accorded for the protection of creations of the mind. The term "intellectual property" is defined in Article 2 (viii) of the Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organisation 1967 as including rights in relation to:

  • Literary, artistic and scientific works;
  • Performances of performing artists, sound recordings and broadcasts;
  • Inventions in all fields of human endeavour;
  • Scientific discoveries;
  • Industrial designs;
  • Trade marks, service marks and commercial names and designations;
  • Protection against unfair competition; and
  • All other rights resulting from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary or artistic fields.

Intellectual property rights (IPRs) provide creators and innovators with the exclusive right, for a limited time, to control what others may do with their work. This exclusive right is justified on the grounds that IPRs give creators and innovators an opportunity to make a return on their investment in creativity or innovation, and provide an incentive for creative or innovative activity that might not otherwise take place. The benefits of this additional creativity and innovation are considered to outweigh the costs imposed on society by IPRs.

By way of an example: the grant of a patent gives the patent owner the exclusive right, to make, sell or use the patented invention for a maximum of twenty years from the date of filing of the patent application. In return for receiving the patent, the patent owner is required to disclose the details of the invention, thereby encouraging the dissemination of information throughout society. The disclosure of this information may facilitate other inventors to build on this innovation – what might be termed "cumulative innovation".

IPRs need to strike a careful balance between the interests of IPR owners and the interests of society as a whole. If the scope of IPR protection is too narrow, or the term too short, there will be too little incentive for innovation or creativity. Conversely, if IPR protection is too broad, or the term too long, the cost imposed on society by the grant of IPRs may exceed the benefits.

Types of Intellectual Property

  • Copyright Protection in New Zealand – for protecting original material in literary, dramatic, artistic or musical works; sound recordings; films; broadcasts; cable programmes and typographical arrangements
  • Patent Protection in New Zealand – for protecting an invention that is a "method of new manufacture"
  • Trade Mark Protection in New Zealand – for protecting a sign or symbol used to distinguish the goods and services of one trader from those of another
  • Plant Variety Rights Protection in New Zealand – for new plant varieties
  • Registered Design Protection in New Zealand – for protecting the external appearance of a manufactured article
  • Protection of Layout Designs of Integrated Circuits in New Zealand – for protecting the layout designs of integrated circuits
  • Protection for Geographical Indications in New Zealand – indications used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities, reputation or other characteristic that are due to that place of origin

Courtesy of IRD