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What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.

IP 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. By striking the right balance between the interests of innovators and the wider public interest, the IP system aims to foster an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish.

Cover of WIPO Publication 450/2020 titled What is  intellectual property?

What is Intellectual Property?

Explore the main IP types and how the law protects them.


Types of intellectual property

Do you know what the difference is between a patent and an industrial design, how to protect your photo with a copyright, or why you would want to obtain a protected designation of origin? Discover everything you ever wanted to know about IP rights.

an image of a patent application for a flying machine
(image: clipart.com)


A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention. Generally speaking, a patent provides the patent owner with the right to decide how - or whether - the invention can be used by others. In exchange for this right, the patent owner makes technical information about the invention publicly available in the published patent document.

an image of a c sign that stands for copyright
(Photo: GettyImages/maxkabakov)


Copyright is a legal term used to describe the rights that creators have over their literary and artistic works. Works covered by copyright range from books, music, paintings, sculpture and films, to computer programs, databases, advertisements, maps and technical drawings.

a world map made of trademark signs
(image: WIPO/Gen a)


A trademark is a sign capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one enterprise from those of other enterprises. Trademarks date back to ancient times when artisans used to put their signature or "mark" on their products.

an image of an industrial design in the development phase
(image: iStock/Getty Images Plus/adventtr)

Industrial designs

An industrial design constitutes the ornamental or aesthetic aspect of an article. A 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.

a pin on the map indicating a location for a designation of origin
(Photo: iStockphoto.com/mattjeacock)

Geographical indications

Geographical indications and appellations of origin 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. Most commonly, a geographical indication includes the name of the place of origin of the goods.

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(Image: Getty images/deepblue4you)

Trade secrets

Trade secrets are IP rights on 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 regarded as an unfair practice and a violation of the trade secret protection.

IP Training

WIPO runs workshops, seminars and training courses throughout the year, both in Geneva and worldwide.

Year-round roving seminars help businesses, researchers, lawyers and innovators stay on top of latest developments in global IP services.

The WIPO Academy is the center of excellence for IP education, training and skills-building for WIPO member states, in particular developing countries, least-developed countries (LDCs) and countries in transition. The Academy works to help build human capacity in IP, which is essential to innovation and creativity.

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Test your knowledge about intellectual property with an IP quiz!

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IP for...

IP is relevant for everyone everywhere. Learn how IP rights benefit business, universities, and others.

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(Image: Getty Images/BHAVESH1988)


Learn how an understanding of IP can help businesses become more competitive and manage related risks.

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(Image: Getty Images/MAXIMKOSTENKO)


Universities and public research institutions are the factories of the knowledge economy. Discover how IP policies and knowledge transfer are critical to their work.

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(Image: WIPO)

Indigenous Peoples

Discover how WIPO engages with indigenous peoples and local communities with a view to better protect their traditional knowledge (TK) and traditional cultural expressions (TCEs).

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Find out how WIPO is supporting judiciaries in dealing with the novel legal questions that often arise from IP disputes in a rapidly changing technological environment.

IP and...

IP is an important driver for innovation. Find out how IP rights help us addressing the world's most pressing issues, such as global health, climate change and many others.

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(Image: Getty Images/PIYAPHUN)

Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Cultural Expressions

Explore the latest developments and best practices in linking IP with GRs, TK and TCEs.

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(Image: iStock / Getty Images Plus / Yuuji)

Global Health

Learn how global health is linked to access to medical technologies, innovation, technology transfer and trade, and how IP can contribute to meeting the world’s most pressing health needs.

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(Image: iStock / Getty Images Plus / KTStock)

Climate Change

Discover how WIPO addresses climate change and supports environmentally-friendly economic growth, including green innovation and the diffusion of green technologies.

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(Image: iStock / Getty Images Plus / ipopba)


Learn all the latest developments in the field of economics and IP, and how different IP policy choices can affect national economies.

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(Image: UN)

Sustainable Development Goals

IP is a critical incentive for innovation and creativity, which in turn are key to the United Nations SDGs success.

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(Image: iStock / Getty Images Plus / STOCKPHOTOASTUR)

Gender Equality

Men and women are equally as creative and innovative. Yet, women remain under-represented in many areas. Find out how WIPO works to tackle this issue.

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Competition Policy

Find out why IP rights are inherently pro-competitive and how they benefit the society by encouraging businesses to improve their products and services.

IP in...

Successful use of IP can benefit any business. Discover how IP rights can be used for business development in different spheres, such as mobile technology, tourism, or sport.

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(Image: WIPO)

Frontier Technologies

Find out how frontier technologies, including AI, are changing how we do business, how we innovate and create.

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(Image: iStock / Getty Images Plus / MONSTARRR_)

Mobile Apps

Learn how IP mechanisms help mobile application developers and publishers to generate more income from their creations.

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(Photo: Getty Images / DDURRICH)


IP is the basis for key business transactions that secure the economic value of sports and push the industry forward.

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Learn how you can benefit from the IP system if you have a business in the tourism sector.