Unlike real or physical property, intellectual property (IP) refers to a class of intangible rights in the implementation of specific ideas and concepts.
Because of its intangible nature, IP often requires protection in multiple countries with different laws. International intellectual property law therefore represents an attempt to develop certain common standards for protecting the rights of creators and other IP holders.
Protecting Copyrights, Patents & Trademarks on a Global Scale
The term intellectual property is itself rather broad. It does not refer to a specific type of property but rather an entire group of intangible rights.
The most common forms of international intellectual property are copyrights, patents, and trademarks.
The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works is an international treaty that establishes certain minimum standards for copyright law.
It also requires each member country to treat works created in another member state the same as their own when it comes to copyright protection.
A second agreement, the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty, further extended international copyright protection to computer programs and materials contained in electronic databases.
The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) makes it possible for inventors to file a single international application to seek patent protection in over 150 countries.
It is important to understand that there is no such thing as an “international patent.” Each individual country must still review and approve patent rights for their jurisdiction. But the PCT greatly simplifies the process in seeking cross-border patent protections.
The Madrid protocol (also known as the Madrid system) is the equivalent of the PCT for trademarks.
When a business applies for, or obtains a trademark in its home country, the Madrid System allows the business to simultaneously seek “international registration” of the same mark in other participating countries. This protection can also be extended to countries who later join the Madrid system.
Need Help Developing a Comprehensive International IP Strategy?
It is generally a good idea to consult with an attorney if you are looking to protect your international intellectual property. The agreements referenced above are complex documents, and each contains specific registration requirements that must be carefully followed.
You should never assume that just because your IP is protected in the United States that it will automatically be protected in other countries as well. That includes even those who are signatories to the above-referenced treaties.
And keep in mind, registration is just the first step in protecting your company’s international intellectual property. Your business will also need advice and assistance when it comes to licensing intellectual property across international lines and potentially asserting your rights in non-U.S. courts.
If you are looking to develop a comprehensive international intellectual property strategy, contact me today. I work with specialized IP Attorneys internationally and together we will develop a worldwide strategy to protect your IP.