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Intellectual property law refers to the legal rights attached to inventions of the mind or creative works, such as artwork, books, inventions, or scientific discoveries. Intellectual property may be protected by obtaining patent, copyright, or trademark rights to the property. Although each country has its own internal laws for the protection of intellectual property, with the globalization of the world's economy, there is an ever greater need for international intellectual property law. On a worldwide level, international intellectual property law includes a wide array of agreements between countries throughout the world aimed at protecting intellectual property across international borders.
When an artist creates a piece of art or a writer writes a book, he or she needs a legal mechanism to ensure that other people are not able to copy the work and profit from it. Likewise, when an inventor designs something new or a scientist discovers a cure for a disease, he or she also needs a legal way to protect his or her work. Copyrights and patents accomplish these goals. Trademarks are much broader in nature and refer to the legal rights to use a symbol, name, or phrase. Many people around the world identify products by the name of the maker or by a symbol associated with the designer, which makes trademarks valuable and, therefore, protection of a trademark important.
Protecting intellectual property within the boundaries of a country may be relatively simple; however, protecting that same property from illegal copying or usage outside of the country of origin is much more complicated. Efforts to do just that are what have given rise to international intellectual property law. If an inventor knew that his or her invention could be copied freely outside his country of residence, then most inventors would stop inventing. The same philosophy applies to all intellectual property.
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is at the forefront of efforts to encourage and facilitate cooperation among nations in the area of international intellectual property law. WIPO, which operates under the umbrella of the United Nations, not only works to protect intellectual property rights, but is also charged with effectuating the legal transfer of technological developments to third world and developing countries. In addition to WIPO, the World Trade Organization (WTO) as well as regional trade organizations and associations are all involved in efforts to harmonize international intellectual property law.
In order to legally protect intellectual property at the international level, multi-national agreements must be reached and agreed upon. The Agreement of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, and the Hague Agreement Concerning the Deposit of Industrial Design are examples of international agreements that address the protection of intellectual property. Each of these agreements sets forth specific laws that are to be followed by all signatory nations regarding the use of intellectual property created by any of the member states.
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