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What is Intellectual Property Law?

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22nd Mar, 2023
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What is Intellectual Property Law?

Have you ever created an original artwork, invented the machine, developed original software, or designed a logo? If yes, wouldn’t you want others to take your permission, offer payment, or acknowledge your role when using your creation? Intellectual Property Laws are a body of legal regulations that safeguard your rights and privileges as the mind behind the creation.

The golden arches of McDonald’s. The shape of a Coca-Cola bottle. The design of the iPhone. The Darjeeling tea logo and term. What do they all have in common? They all fall under the regulatory governance of Intellectual Property Laws. No individual or organisation can use them without the permission of the intellectual property owners. 

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What is Intellectual Property Law?

Even before you begin to understand Intellectual Property Law, you should know the meaning of intellectual property. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), intellectual property “refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names, and images used in commerce.” They are intangible assets that are the creation of individuals or organisations. These products of human creativity are protected under the law. Copyrights, patents, trademarks, trade secrets, geographical indications, and industrial design laws fall within the umbrella of Intellectual Property Law. 

What is Intellectual Property Law


Today, Intellectual Property Law protects the right of the creator to use and disseminate their creation at their discretion without fear of infringement. The law grants ownership of these assets and intellectual property rights (IPR) to individuals and organisations to empower and safeguard their rights. IPR consists of two categories: a) copyright and rights related to copyright, and b) industrial property. The objective of these laws is simple: create a nourishing environment that fosters creativity and innovation by giving creators control over their work. 

Let’s look at a brief history of the development of Intellectual Property Law

A Brief History of Intellectual Property Law

It was in the mid-20th century that the distinct legal domains of copyrights, patents, trademarks, trade secrets, geographical indications, and industrial design came under a unified regulation. The origin story of intellectual property, however, begins in medieval Europe. The granting of legal protection to an Italian inventor for his creation in 1421 and the Statute of Monopolies in 1623 were pivotal moments recognising intellectual property in history. 

Since then, several events have played significant roles in the spread of Intellectual Property Laws across the globe: the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property of 1883, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Work of 1886, and the Madrid Agreement for the International Registration of Marks of 1891

Another significant event for intellectual property law was the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The TRIPS Agreement is a comprehensive multilateral legal agreement among the member state of the WTO that sets minimum standards for regulations related to intellectual property by signing nations.

Let’s look at the various types of intellectual property protected under Intellectual Property Law

Types of Intellectual Property

Intellectual property broadly falls into four categories. They are:

1. Patents

A patent is granted to novel, non-obvious, and practical inventions that give its inventor or successor-in-title exclusive rights to use, make and sell them without fear of infringement by others. It grants protection to the product, process, method, machine, etc., from infringement for a fixed period. Today, companies worldwide have patents for various technologies, processes, products, etc. For example, Tata Motors filed for 125 patents in the financial year 2022!

2. Copyright

A copyright is the exclusive legal authority of creators over their original work, which may be an intellectual, artistic, creative, or literary expression. So, what is copyright act? The law guarantees owners the right to use, reproduce, perform, duplicate, distribute, and adapt their creations (like books, poems, music, art, etc.) for financial benefit or otherwise. From the Beatles and Coldplay to Indian music companies like Saregama and Eros International, the music industry is replete with examples of copyright infringement cases!

3. Trademark

A trademark is a symbol, insignia, shape, sound, number, letter, or phrase (or a combination of them) that ‘marks’ or represents a product or service as being distinct from its competitors. The product, service, or company becomes singularly associated with the trademark, and no one else can use it. Apple’s symbol, Coca-Cola’s logo and name, and Organic India certification are examples of trademarks.


4. Trade secrets

Any formula, system, strategy, process, or practice that gives a competitive advantage to a company over its competitors is known as a trade secret. They are confidential and commercially valuable information whose unlawful use, disclosure, or acquisition is considered an unfair practice. Coca-Cola’s soft drink formula, KFC’s original recipe, and Google’s search engine algorithm fall within this category. 

Intellectual Property Law in India

Intellectual Property Law in India has a very long history. Want to know the key legislations that have shaped intellectual property in India? Read on!

Intellectual Property Law in India


1. Copyright Act 1957

You must be wondering, “What is Copyright Act?” This key legislation brought under its ambit laws pertaining to copyright in India. Under the law, copyright is granted to books, movies, paintings, sculptures, art, advertisements, technical drawings, map, databases, computer programs, or photographs. Protection is granted for sixty years under the Copyright Act 1957 to the creators of the copyrighted material. 

2. Patents Act 1970

The law brought under it all regulations relating to registration, applicability and granting of patents in India. The Patents Act of 1970 grants exclusive rights to patent holders for a 20-year duration. It strikes a balance between the rights of the inventor and their duty to society.

Patents Act 1970


3. Trade Marks Act 1999

The Trade Marks Act 1999 was a landmark legislation that incorporated the requirements of the TRIPS Agreement and replaced the Trade and Merchandise Act of 1958. The Act sought to consolidate trademark laws, provide registration and increased protection for trademarks, and prevent fraudulent trademark practices. Trade Marks Act 1999 grants trademarks for ten years.

4. Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act 1999

The Act encompasses registration and protection of geographical indications relating to products in India. The GI Act of 1999 complies with the TRIPS Agreement of the WTO. It indicates that the product originated from a specific geographical location and has certain characteristic qualities as a result.

Geographical Indication of Goods (1)


5. Designs Act 2000

The law governs the registration, use, and protection of new and original designs. It prevents loss to proprietors that results from their designs being copied for a 10-year period. It is extendable by another five years. 

6. Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act 2000

Under this law, original and distinctive layout designs that have not been previously commercially exploited are registered and protected. The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology implements the law.

7. Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act 2001

This Act was enacted to protect the farmers’ and plant breeders’ rights over newly developed and cultivated crop varieties. The law aims to encourage and incentivise conservation practices and promote the genetic diversity of plants. 

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Why do we need Intellectual Property Law?

The necopenessity of Intellectual Property Law has long been recognised and acknowledged. What makes it so essential?

  1. Promotes creativity and innovation by securing the rights of the creator.
  2. Ensures individuals or businesses granted intellectual property rights can benefit economically. 
  3. It gives the owner a distinctive advantage over the competition.
  4. Promotes breakthrough work that can solve global problems.

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Intellectual Property Law is the buffer that protects your right as an inventor or creator from the copycats who piggyback and profiteer from your work. These laws encourage and nurture creativity and innovation by rewarding the mind behind the toil. Recognition, economic benefit, and security are the fruits of your labour that Intellectual Property Laws ensure. 

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The cutting-edge curriculum from the world-class faculty and industry experts includes subjects like Advanced IPR and IT Law, Intellectual Property and New Technology, AI, Music and Copyrights, International Investment and Intellectual Property, TRIPS and Public Health, and GDPR: A European Example of Data Protection Law. Get on board if you have your sights set on top-tier law firms and legal departments! 

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1What is the National IPR Policy?

The National IPR Policy of 2016, formulated by the Government of India, brings all intellectual property rights (IPR) under one platform. It seeks to create an interlinked intellectual property ecosystem and bring under one umbrella the bodies, statutes, agencies and authorities of the different IP domains.

2What are Intellectual Property Rights?

Intellectual Property Rights IPR are the rights of creators and innovators of intellectual property over their intangible assets.

3What are the disadvantages of Intellectual Property Law?

Intellectual Property Law has several disadvantages: the process is expensive and time-consuming; protection is granted for a fixed period; it advantages those with capital; it can promote monopolies.

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