World Intellectual Property Organization

Background information note on the Legal Framework for Intellectual Property of the Holy See

Prepared by the World Intellectual Property Organization © 2011      [Traduzione italiana]


The Holy See, in the common language, is closely associated with the Vatican City. It is the Episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome headed by the Pope. It coincides stricto sensu with the office of the Pope, who is the Bishop of Rome and the Head of the Catholic Church. It dates back to early Christian times and is recognized by other subjects of international law as a sovereign entity, headed by the Pope, with which diplomatic relations can be maintained.

The Vatican City is an enclave of Rome and a sovereign monarchical-sacerdotal state which was established on 1929 by the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy. This treaty signing effectively ended the "Roman Question," a source of tension for decades between the Catholic Church and the Kingdom of Italy. This international issue started during the struggle for Italian unification, from 1860 to 1870. At that time and prior to the Lateran Treaty, although Italy did not occupy the whole Vatican City, as an act of respect towards the Pope, it still thought that the whole area was to be considered part of the Kingdom of Italy.

The Vatican City provides the Holy See with a temporal jurisdiction and independence within a small territory. According to Article 3 of the Lateran Treaty, the Holy See has "full ownership, exclusive dominion and sovereign authority and jurisdiction over the Vatican City".

Fundamental laws

There are six fundamental laws that provide the foundation of the legal system of the Holy See; they were adopted in the year that the Lateran Treaty entered into force. These laws are the following: (i) Fundamental Law of the City of the Vatican, (ii) Law on the Source of Laws, (iii) Law on the Rights of Citizenship and Sojourn, the three preceding laws have been superseded by new laws in 2000, 2008 and 2011, (iv) Law on Administrative Organization, (v) Law on Economic, Commercial and Professional Organization and (vi) Law on Public Security.

According to Article 1 of the Law on the Source of Laws, the Code of Canon Law is the primary source of law. Article 3 of this law recognizes Italian legislation as a secondary source, where it is not in conflict with pontifical law, the Lateran Treaty or Canon Law.

The Law on the Source of Laws contains specific provisions concerning the protection of intellectual property rights. Under Article 3 and Article 12(1.a.2) the Vatican applies the Italian law concerning patents, trademarks and trade names.

Form of Government

The Vatican City is an absolute elective monarchy which is headed by the Pope who exercises principal legislative, executive, and judicial powers. Legislative authority is vested in the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State, a body of cardinals appointed by the Pope for five-year terms.

Executive power is in the hands of the President of that Commission, assisted by the General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary. The Vatican’s foreign relations are entrusted to the Holy See's Secretariat of State and diplomatic service.

External Relations

The diplomatic relations in the name of Vatican City are under the State Secretary’s competence. The Holy See is a Permanent Observer State in the United Nations and its participation in the UN is defined under UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/58/314 [1]. It is also a permanent observer in other international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, International Atomic Energy Agency, Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Commission, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and World Trade Organization.

Ambassadors are officially accredited to the Holy See, and papal representatives to states and international organizations are recognized as representing the Holy See.

Intellectual Property

The Holy See is a WIPO member since 1967 and a WTO Observer. It is a signatory to the Universal Copyright Convention 1952, Universal Copyright Convention 1971, Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, Berne Convention (September 12, 1935), Rome Convention, Hague Agreement, Phonograms Convention (July 18, 1977), WIPO Convention (April 20, 1975), Paris Convention (September 29, 1960), Strasbourg Agreement, Patent Cooperation Treaty and the Locarno Agreement.

The protection of the intellectual property rights is entrusted to the Legal Office of the Governorate of the Vatican City.


[1] Adopted by the UN General Assembly during its 58th session on July 16, 2004.

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