IntellectualProperty is an oxymoron: the legal concept asserting that ideas can be owned. Be aware that there is no actual IntellectualProperty law; the concept is manifested in various distinct ways such as CopyRight and Patent laws. The term IntellectualProperty is often abused by MarkeTroids to conflate issues spanning multiple kinds of IntellectualProperty law in order to muddle over all-important details. SCO's Linux FUD was a particularly egregious example of the practice. The FSF dislike the term for this reason and list it as one of the words to avoid, suggesting instead to focus on the individual aspects of law such as CopyRight and Patents.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation defined the term as the range of property rights accorded for the protection of creations of the mind, including

  • Literary, artistic and scientific works;
  • Performances of performing artists, sound recordings and broadcasts;
  • Inventions in all fields of human endeavour;
  • Scientific discoveries;
  • Industrial designs;
  • Trade marks, service marks and commercial names and designations;
  • Protection against unfair competition; and
  • All other rights resulting from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary or artistic fields.

IntellectualProperty rights provide their owners with the exclusive right to control what others may do with their work for a limited time. This exclusive right is supposed to be justified on the grounds that they give creators and innovators an opportunity to make a return on their investment, providing an incentive for creative or innovative activity that might not otherwise take place. There is a lot of debate currently about whether this premise is true in general, and whether it is true with the current IntellectualProperty law implementations. SoftwarePatents are a particular focus point of the arguments.

CopyLeft licenses such as the GPL are a reaction to the growing trend to claim ownership to ideas. While they rely on IntellectualProperty law such as CopyRight to be effective, they essentially use the law against itself.

In no field of IP law can 'ideas' be protected - only the 'expression' of an idea can be protected. The song "Eight Days a Week" is copyright, but that doesn't stop anyone from writing their own song based on the 'idea' of not having enough days in a week to express one's romantic feelings. Therefore IP is not an oxymoron. There is such as thing as IP law - but it is an umbrella for copyright, trade marks and so on. Similarly, the law of tort is an umbrella for things such as negligence, invasion of privacy, and battery. IP law has been used to entrench unfair business practices, limit competition and discourage customer participation. But land law has been used to deny housing to poor people and exploit areas of natural beauty. Any area of law can be misused. The GPL and other similar efforts are laudable, but they are also using the tools of IP law just as much as any monopolist company - it's only the end goal that is different. I'm not a LUG member, and my impression is that open source arguments would be much more persuasive if they were precise, objective and correct in law. -- MeganCrocket.

That is not correct. SoftwarePatents actually do allow you to protect pure ideas. Just read the text of virtually any SoftwarePatent granted in the US. See the for a UK court's thundering rejection of the concept. --AristotlePagaltzis

To some degree here people are both correct and incorrect! That is because the patent laws vary country by country. Europe has just turned down a law to enable explicit SoftwarePatents, the USA has a system which allows more patents than NewZealand which does not allow patents for pure ideas. --IanMcDonald is away presently, so I can't comment on that link. However, the few software patent texts I have browsed discuss an expression of an idea - eg, a method for providing a marketplace for online sales, not the idea that you can sell stuff online: BAD URL -- remove all of <, >, ". Or a method of generating targeted advertising in an RSS feed, not the idea that you can customise advertising based on locality: google. The point being the patents don't describe the only way to provide an online marketplace or to generate targetted adveritising in an rss feed. All you have to do to avoid the patent is make it one step different. And, I suppose, be prepared to take that to the courts. Yes, the whole arena sucks. -- DanielLawson

See also:

Part of CategoryLegalese