Introduction to Intellectual Property Rights
Any rights over creations of the mind or products of the intellect are known as intellectual property rights. For instance, if someone composes a piece of music, then he or she can be thought to have used their intellect and innate talent to create the artwork and hence, they are entitled to have rights over their creation.
Similarly, when someone codes an app or software which is similarly a work of their intellect, then the law provides for provisions wherein the individuals who have created the software or the app can have rights over its distribution, licensing, and sale.
Of course, to qualify for protection under the existing intellectual property regime, the creator has to conclusively prove that the creation is his or hers and they have not lifted the idea or the process from someone else or have not copied their creation from an existing piece of intellectual property.
Types of Intellectual Property Rights
The intellectual property rights cover the musical, literary, artistic, inventions and discoveries, and even designs, artworks, phrases, words, and symbols. Indeed, it can be said that IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) encompass any work of the mind and hence, the ambit of the works that are covered is indeed growing by the day considering the fact that the 21st century has witnessed an explosion in the number of products that are creations of the intellect.
There are several types of IPR and some of them are trademarks, patents, copyright, trade secrets, and rights over industrial designs. Without elaborating in detail on these types of IPR since this article is intended to be an introductory primer, it needs to be mentioned that with the growing trend of IPR theft and violations wherein the chances of stealing and lifting as well as copying and imitating the works of others has become rampant, an entire industry of lawyers, legal experts, and legal firms are engaged in advising their clients about the nuances of filing for protection under IPR laws and suing imitators and violators as the need arises.
The Objectives of IPR
The stated objective of the existing IPR regime is to ensure that the creator is encouraged to produce more and create more by protecting his or her creations from copying and imitation and hence, place him or her in a position wherein they can commercially gain from their creations. The intention is to ensure that the artist, composer, scientist, developer, and engineer as well as anyone who has created a work of the mind is incentivized to profit monetarily from their creations thereby encouraging the progress of society.
Criticism of IPR
In other words, as the creators contribute to society through their creations, the IPR laws ensure that they continue to do since society tends to benefit from such creations. Having said that, it must be noted that there are instances where the IPR laws are criticized by some as being tilted towards the interests of the developed countries. The best example of this aspect are the patents over pharmaceuticals which under the law prohibit anyone else from producing those drugs thereby giving a virtual monopoly to the Pharma Majors who have patents over them. This usually makes the drug companies price their products in a manner as to shut out the poor in the developing countries since the Pharma companies want to not only recoup their investments made in the R&D (Research and Development) but also want to ensure that they make profits.
Problem of Piracy in China and India
Having said that, it must also be noted that in the absence of IPR laws, there would be a free for all wherein everyone copies everyone else leading to a situation where society loses out in the longer term because nobody is incentivized to be creative. For instance, in China and India, the use of pirated software is the norm rather than the exception which makes many soft product companies wary of releasing their products in these countries. Indeed, the problem of piracy has become so rampant in these countries that concerned governments are involving all stakeholders to combat this piracy.
The Free Software Movement and Wikipedia
Of course, the parallel emergence of the free software and the Copy Left movement that emphasizes that software has to be free and open source to ensure that it gets better is a trend that has become noticeable in recent years. The proponents of the free software movement claim that ensuring open source software would make more developers contribute to the effort of enhancing such software leading to collaboration instead of completion and actualizing societal gains.
Indeed, the astounding success of Wikipedia which is an open source online encyclopedia should convince everyone that despite the need to gain commercially, perhaps the future of the IPR regime would lie in sharing that obviates stealing and collaborating that makes competition redundant. The intention behind this line of thinking is that the 21st century is a pivotal moment in history where humanity can choose to either compete with each other to the point of annihilation or collaborate with each other to the point of transition to a more equal and equitable not to leave out a sharing and caring world.
No matter which side of the debate one is on, the fact remains that IPR is an accepted norm for all creators and hence, all stakeholders have a duty to abide by it and ensure compliance. Even if someone disagrees with the existing IPR regime, then there ought to be a reasoned debate instead of shouting matches that produce more noise than ideas thereby detracting from the purpose of engaging in conversation to add value to the IPR regime.
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