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What is meant by intellectual property and why is it an important issue today?

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Everything you need to know about IP and why it's important

What is meant by intellectual property and why is it an important issue today? Image of a fishing net, blue on an black background.

Photo by Uriel SC on Unsplash

Words by Dr Martin Douglas Hendry




In recent years intellectual property (IP) has become more of an important topic for businesses looking to bring something different to the marketplace.

Whether it is a distinct brand, a certain voice, or a unique innovation in their product or service, intellectual property comes into play.

It is ever more important for businesses to get a grasp of IP early in their life cycle, learning how to create, grow and protect what it is that makes them uniquely inviting to their customers.

This can be the difference between being a special and enduring business and one that soon blends in with everyone else and doesn’t stand the test of time.


Why are we able to speak with authority about intellectual property?


At Virtuoso Legal, our team help all kinds of businesses do this – whether they’re a start-up with an innovative product, or they’re established on the international stage and looking to maximise the value of their ideas. In fact, it is all we do.

And we’ve been doing it for over 15 years!


What you will learn by reading this article


Wherever you may be as a business, you can always benefit from understanding IP better.

In this guide we will explain a bit more about:

  • what intellectual property is and its history
  • why it is important and
  • how businesses use it to grow
  • examples of how you might better use IP in your business


When you get to the end of this article, you will be much better equipped to protect what makes you special as a business (along with the revenue that comes from that).


So, let’s get started!



What is intellectual property?


Intellectual property is a term which describes a certain class of intangible assets held by individuals or businesses protected by intellectual property law.

Intangible assets refer to the non-physical value that an individual or business has.

Nowadays many businesses rely on and produce intangible assets more so than they produce physical objects.

Imagine you had a warehouse full of your: reputation, knowledge, expertise, experience, methods, ideas, and more.

Would you want to keep these under lock and key – or would you leave the “warehouse” open at the end of the day?

Intellectual property law helps individuals and businesses protect these valuable intangible assets – ensuring that their contribution to a business's bottom line can be relied upon in the future.

Even for businesses who don’t have a new invention or a killer brand, IP exists in the form of:

  • Email: including the content of your messages, your contact list, and your email address are all examples of your intellectual property
  • Design and content on your website
  • Code used to create your website
  • Blog posts
  • Social media posts
  • Photos
  • Videos and webinars
  • Business plans and databases
  • Software


Businesses protect all this and more by engaging intellectual property lawyers (such as us) to make sure that their most important intangible assets are protected – ensuring that no one else can copy or steal them.



The history of intellectual property


The concept of intellectual property has a long and complex history, dating back to ancient times. The term itself is relatively modern, first appearing in the 19th century. But the idea of protecting someone's creative work or ideas is much older.

One of the earliest examples of intellectual property protection comes from China. In the early 11th century, the Chinese emperor Shenzong decreed that all books should be registered and made available to the public. This was an effort to combat piracy and ensure that authors were properly credited for their work. The concept of intellectual property began to spread beyond China in the late medieval period.

In 1474, the Venetian Republic passed a law recognizing the rights of authors and printers to their work. This was followed by similar laws in other European countries in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The first real debate over intellectual property rights occurred in the 18th century, with the rise of the Enlightenment. Some thinkers, like Denis Diderot, argued that ideas should be freely accessible to everyone. Others, like Adam Smith, believed that people should be able to profit from their ideas.

The nineteenth century saw a major expansion of intellectual property rights. The first copyright law was passed in Britain in 1709, and similar laws were soon enacted in other countries. In 1883, the first international treaty on intellectual property, the Paris Convention, was signed.

The twentieth century saw a continued expansion of intellectual property rights, with new laws and treaties covering areas such as trademarks, patents, and trade secrets. In recent years, there has been increasing debate over the scope and enforcement of these rights.



The principles behind intellectual property


There are three main principles that underlie intellectual property: (1) the idea of intellectual labour, (2) the idea of a limited monopoly, and (3) the idea of progress.

The first principle, the idea of intellectual labour, is the basis for intellectual property rights. This principle holds that people should be able to own the fruits of their labour, including their intellectual labour.

The second principle, the idea of a limited monopoly, is what makes intellectual property different from other kinds of property. Unlike physical property, which can be used by anyone, intellectual property is subject to a limited monopoly. This means that only the owner (typically the creator) of intellectual property has the exclusive right to exploit it. This monopoly is meant to encourage creativity by providing incentives for people to create new things.

The third principle, the idea of progress, is what makes intellectual property a positive force in society. This principle holds that intellectual property rights promote progress by encouraging creativity and innovation.

As a result, intellectual property law seeks to balance each of these principles – encouraging innovation as well as not limiting the benefit those innovations bring to the wider public.



Why is intellectual property important today?


One of the most important aspects of intellectual property is that it provides a way for people to make a living from their ideas. In the past, people could only make a living from their ideas if they were able to sell them to others.

Today, intellectual property provides a way for people to earn a living from their ideas even if they never sell them. This is because intellectual property can be used to create products and services that people are willing to pay for.

Another reason why intellectual property is important is that it can help to protect businesses from competition. If a business has a unique product or service, then it can use intellectual property to stop others from copying or imitating it. This can give the business a competitive advantage and allow it to charge higher prices for its products or services.

Finally, intellectual property can help to promote innovation. If people know that they will be able to earn a living from their ideas, then they are more likely to come up with new and innovative ideas. This can lead to advances in technology and improved products and services for everyone.



The role of technology in the increasing importance of intellectual property today


The internet has made it possible for anyone with a computer and an internet connection to access a vast amount of information (and thus intellectual property). This has led to increased opportunities for infringement of intellectual property, as well as increased opportunities for legitimate creators to disseminate their work.

AI and 3D printing are technologies that are increasingly being used to create new products and services. These technologies have the potential to radically change the landscape of intellectual property, as they make it possible to create new things that have never been created before. This could lead to a situation where there is a lot of intellectual property that is not protected by any existing laws.

The metaverse is a virtual world that is created by combining various elements of the internet, including social media, gaming, and other online activities. This virtual world has the potential to become a platform for businesses and other organizations to sell products and services. If the metaverse becomes a reality, it could have a major impact on intellectual property, as it would be a place where people could create and sell virtual goods and services.



Why business owners and individuals should take an early interest in intellectual property


If a business wants to be successful, it must protect its intellectual property (IP). By doing so, the business can defend its ideas, products, and processes from competitors.

Additionally, IP can help a business attract investment and grow. Therefore, businesses should care about intellectual property early in their lifecycle.

Individuals create IP all the time without even knowing it. For example, when someone comes up with a new design for a product, that person has created a new piece of IP. Similarly, when someone comes up with a new slogan or jingle, they have created a new form of IP. In fact, any time someone creates something new and original, they are creating IP. This is most visibly seen today online with creators on social media (e.g., TikTok, Instagram, YouTube etc.) who create new IP (i.e. copyright works) through content creation and posting on a day-to-day basis.



Should intellectual property be considered a human right?


Intellectual property is a legal term that refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce. Intellectual property is protected by patents, copyrights, and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from their ideas.

The question of whether intellectual property should be considered a human right is a controversial one. Some argue that intellectual property is a natural extension of the right to property, and therefore should be protected as such. Others argue that intellectual property rights can interfere with other human rights, such as the right to education or the right to health.

There is no universal answer to the question of whether intellectual property should be considered a human right. However, it is important to consider the pros and cons of intellectual property rights before making a decision.





In this article we have covered:

  • What intellectual property is and its history
  • Why businesses and individuals should be aware of intellectual property
  • The increasing current and future relevance of intellectual property
  • The proposed status of IP as a prospective human right


We hope that you have found this article interesting and entertaining.

If you own a business and would like to further improve the status of IP rights within your organisation, our team can help.​


Get in Touch



DISCLAIMER: The content within this post is for educational purposes only. Virtuoso Legal does not take any responsibility for those that use this information and waives any liability for any resulting effect on your personal or commercial circumstances. If you are experiencing an issue and need advice, we strongly encourage you to contact a solicitor to identify your best course of action.





Take a look at our other guides that relate to this topic here.

How to prevent intellectual property theft

Why you should care about protecting your intellectual property

Why do we need IP?



Virtuoso Legal is a team of intellectual property specialists based in Leeds and London - operating worldwide. Virtuoso Legal's team of IP experts have successfully tried cases in the IPEC, High Court, Court of Appeals and United Kingdom Supreme Court. In addition, the team assist companies in creating, commercialising and protecting the big ideas that make their business unique. The firm and its professionals are ranked yearly in legal directories such as the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners, cementing their status as a Top 2% law firm in the world.

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