Intellectual Property: A Very Short Introduction

Intellectual Property, Copyright and Trademark and Patents

Article Snapshot


Siva Vaidhyanathan


Oxford University Press, 2017


Intellectual property (IP) law includes copyright, patent, trademark, and trade secret law. Some scholars advocate revisiting and reforming fundamental principles of IP law, because it can be overly complex, raise prices, and restrict free expression and innovation.

Policy Relevance

Activists have arisen to protest excessive IP laws around the world.

Main Points

  • Drawbacks of a world without IP law might include:
    • Drug companies might focus on proven products rather than investing in risky research on new treatments.
    • Recording artists might stop releasing their work in high-quality, mass-marketed forms.
  • Advantages of a world without IP might include:
    • The costs of existing drugs would drop drastically.
    • Governments could fund and regulate drug research.
    • The creative industry might reward more small firms and be less dominated by large global firms.
  • Few argue that IP should be abolished; most current research is intended to maximize the positive effects and reduce the negative effects of the current system.
  • The four most significant types of IP law are copyright, patent, trademark, and trade secret law.
    • Most IP-based industries also rely heavily on contract law.
    • New types of IP can be developed to cover new enterprises, such as semiconductors, databases, domain names, and fashion.
  • Fair use is an important limit on the rights of copyright owners; in 2013, a federal judge settled that Google made “fair use” of images from books by posting them on Google Books, and Google would not be liable for copying the images without permission.
  • Plagiarism, an ethical violation, is not the same as copyright infringement; lawsuits involving plagiarism are often based on unfair competition law rather than copyright law.
  • Many thinkers working on copyright policy hope policymakers will rethink the entire system, because copyright is hard to understand and serves special interests.
  • The patent system does not work well for nanotechnology; so many patents on basic nanotechnological innovations have been awarded that no further inventions can be developed without extensive negotiations.
  • Some researchers conclude there is no evidence that patents actually promote innovation; however, most scholars agree that patents do encourage innovation in the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Trademarks allow firms to offer a consistent product or a predictable quality or experience.


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