Intellectual property (well use the abbreviation "IP" from now on) is a legal term that refers to industrial property and to copyright and related rights. Industrial property comprises the protection of patents, trademarks, industrial designs, and geographical indications. It also includes the protection of utility models, trade dress and layout-designs or topographies of integrated circuits, where such protection exists, and protection against unfair competition including/or protection of undisclosed information/trade secrets. IP is really a type of property or asset, just as valuable (or more valuable) than physical or real property, even though it may be intangible, like knowledge. The value of IP assets relative to physical assets has increased because of the importance of technology and creative works in the modern economy. IP consists of new ideas, original expressions, distinctive names, and appearance that make products unique and valuable. IP is often traded (or licensed) in its own right without trading in the value of an underlying product or service, by means of patent or other IP licenses from a rights owner to another.
There are several reasons why IP is important to E-Commerce and e-commerce is important to IP. E-Commerce, more than other business systems, often involves selling products and services that are based on IP and its licensing. Music, pictures, photos, software, designs, training modules, systems, etc. can all be traded through E-Commerce, in which case, IP is the main component of value in the transaction. IP is important because the things of value that are traded on the Internet must be protected, using technological security systems and IP laws, or else they can be stolen or pirated and whole businesses can be destroyed.
Also, IP is involved in making E-Commerce work. The systems that allow the Internet to function - software, networks, designs, chips, routers and switches, the user interface, and so on - are forms of IP and often protected by IP rights. Trademarks are an essential part of E-Commerce business, as branding, customer recognition and good will, essential elements of Web-based business, are protected by trademarks and unfair competition law.
E-Commerce businesses and Internet related businesses are based on product or patent licensing. This is because so many different technologies are required to create a product that companies often outsource the development of some component of products, or share technologies through licensing arrangements. If every company had to develop and produce all technological aspects of every product independently, development of high technology products would be impossible. The economics of E-Commerce depends on companies working together to share, through licensing, the opportunities and risks of business. Many of these companies are SMEs.
Finally, E-Commerce based businesses usually hold a great deal of their value in IP; so the valuation of your E-Commerce business will be affected by whether you have protected your IP. Many E-Commerce companies, like other technology companies, have patent portfolios and trademarks that enhance the value of their business.
On IP generally, see:
- WIPO's web site (http://www.wipo.int/about-ip/)
- WIPO's Primer on Electronic Commerce and Intellectual Property Issues (http://ecommerce.wipo.int/primer/index.html)
- Australia: IPAustralia (http://www.ipaustralia.gov.au)
- Canada: Canadian IP Office (http://cipo.gc.ca)
- Japan: Japan IP Resources (http://www.okuyama.com)
- United Kingdom: UK Patent Office (http://www.intellectual-property.gov.uk)
- United States of America: (http:www.uspto.gov)
- American Intellectual Property Law Association Web Site (http://www.aipla.org)
- Franklin Pierce Law Center's Web Mall (http://www.ipmall.fplc.edu)
- US Patent and Trademark Office, kids pages (http://www.uspto.gov/go/kids)
- Intellectual Property Law (http://www.intelproplaw.com)
On protection of IP assets on the Internet, see:
- US Copyright Office (http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright)
On IP and e-commerce, see:
- Section on IP at "Managing the Digital Enterprise" (http://digitalenterprise.org/)