We live in a knowledge economy, where ideas generated by talented people and the inventions they make are the new currency. Research and innovation are now seen as the key differentiating factors determining the market value of a product or service. The emphasis today has graduated from cost arbitrage and quality deliverables to IP creation and R&D.
Intellectual property rights are legal rights, which result from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary and artistic fields. These rights give statutory expression to the moral and economic rights of creators in their creations. Intellectual property rights safeguard creators and other producers of intellectual goods and services by granting them certain time-limited rights to control the use made of those productions. These rights also promote creativity and the dissemination and application of its results and encourage fair-trading, which contributes to economic and social development.
The need for a system to protect IP internationally arose when foreign exhibitors refused to attend an International Exhibition of Inventions in Vienna in 1873 because they were afraid that their ideas would be stolen and exploited commercially in other countries. This led to the creation of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property of 1883. The Paris Convention was the first major international treaty designed to help the people of one country obtain protection in other countries for their intellectual creations, in the form of industrial property rights. In 1886, copyright entered the international arena with the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. The aim of this Convention was to help nationals of its Member States obtain international protection of their right to control, and receive payment for, the use of literary and artistic works. Both the Paris Convention and the Berne Convention set up International Bureaus to carry out administrative tasks, such as organizing meetings of the Member States. In 1893, these two small bureaus united to form an international organization called the United International Bureaus for the Protection of Intellectual Property – best known by its French acronym, BIRPI. Based in Berne, Switzerland, with a staff of seven, BIRPI was the predecessor of what is today known as the World Intellectual Property Organization or WIPO. WIPO is a specialized agency of the UN, with a mandate to administer IP matters recognized by the UN Member States. There are about 21 international treaties in the field of intellectual property, which are administered by WIPO. The treaties fall into three groups namely treaties, which establish international protection; treaties, which facilitate international protection and treaties, which establish classification systems.