Business Terminology – Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

A product of human intellect, intellectual property rights allow its owner to benefit from the fruits of this intellectual endeavour by creating a monopoly over it. Such benefits are protected by these rights and are not natural.


The significance of intellectual property goes back to the ancient use of stamps on bricks by Roman brick-makers for the purpose of identification, and even before that when leaders of the ancient Greek city of Sybaris granted a monopoly for one year on cooking a delicious dish to its creator. Obviously, much has changed since then with the progressive (and of late astronomical) advancement of science and technology and global business.

The World Intellectual Property Organization defines geintellectual property as creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and imas used in commerce. Intellectual property is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create. These laws balance the interests of innovators and the wider public.

Some of the kinds of IPR include:

  1. Copyright

This legal term describes the rights that creators have over their literary and artistic works. These can encompass books, music, paintings, sculpture and films, computer programs, databases, advertisements, maps technical drawings, etc.

  1. Patents

An exclusive right granted for an invention, a patent provides the patent owner with the right to decide how – or whether – the invention can be used by others. In return, the patent owner makes technical information about the invention publicly available in the published patent document.

  1. Trademarks

This is a sign capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one enterprise from those of other enterprises.

  1. Industrial designs

An industrial design may consist of three-dimensional features, such as the shape or surface of an article, or of two-dimensional features, such as patterns, lines or color. It constitutes the ornamental or aesthetic aspect of an article.

  1. Geographical indications

These are signs used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities, a reputation or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that place of origin.

  1. Trade secrets

These IP rights pertain to confidential information, which may be sold or licensed.  The unauthorized acquisition, use or disclosure of such secret information in a manner contrary to honest commercial practices by others is treated as an unfair practice and a violation of the trade secret protection.

India & IPR

In India, intellectual property rights are governed by the following statutes:

The Patents Act, 1970;

The Trade Marks Act, 1999;

The Copyright Act, 1957;

The Designs Act, 2000;

The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999;

The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout Design Act, 2000;

The Biological Diversity Act, 2002;

The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001.

IPR in practice

IPR is one of the major issues of contention between India and the United States. The latter has often lamented about long-standing IP challenges facing its businesses in India, including those which make it difficult for innovators to receive and maintain patents in that country, particularly for pharmaceuticals, insufficient enforcement actions, copyright policies that do not properly incentivise the creation and commercialisation of content, and an outdated and insufficient trade secrets legal framework.

It has accused India of further restricting the transparency of information provided on state-issued pharmaceutical manufacturing licenses, and expanded the application of patentability exceptions to reject pharmaceutical patents. It warned India that to maintain the integrity and predictability of IP systems, governments should use compulsory licenses only in extremely limited circumstances and after making every effort to obtain authorisation from the patent owner on reasonable commercial terms and conditions.

Another controversy that germinated last year and exemplified the challenges of non-uniformity in IPR laws was PepsiCo alleging infringement of intellectual property rights by Gujarat farmers. The debacle raised several key questions such as who is the rightful owner of the potato variety, FL 2027 – the farmer who bought, planted, harvested the potatoes from his own farm; or is it the innovator (PepsiCo) who cross-bred and modified the potato to have a low moisture content for crispier chips? The Indian Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Rights law (2001), entitles not just the breeder but also the farmer. This is in contrast to international IPR norms, which give plant breeders exclusive rights over the varieties they develop, and mostly disregards customary rights of indigenous and farming communities to their genetic resources and associated knowledge.

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