Intellectual property rights are like any other property right. They allow creators, or owners, of patents, trademarks or copyrighted works to benefit from their own work or investment in a creation.
Intellectual property rights reward creativity and human endeavor, which fuel the progress of humankind. Some examples: The multibillion dollar film, recording, publishing and software industries – which bring pleasure to millions of people worldwide – would not exist without copyright protection. Without the rewards provided by the patent system, researchers and inventors would have little incentive to continue producing better and more efficient products for consumers.
Consumers would have no means to confidently buy products or services without reliable, international trademark protection and enforcement mechanisms to discourage counterfeiting and piracy.
Other types of industrial property are protected primarily to stimulate innovation, design and the creation of technology. In this category fall inventions (protected by patents), industrial designs and trade secrets.
The social purpose is to provide protection for the results of investment in the development of new technology, thus giving the incentive and means to finance research and development activities.
A functioning intellectual property regime should also facilitate the transfer of technology in the form of foreign direct investment, joint ventures and licensing.
The protection is usually given for a finite term (typically 20 years in the case of patents).
While the basic social objectives of intellectual property protection are as outlined above, it should also be noted that the exclusive rights given are generally subject to a number of limitations and exceptions, aimed at fine-tuning the balance that has to be found between the legitimate interests of right holders and of users.