The Ethical and Legal Implications of Information Systems
One of the domains that has been deeply impacted by digital technologies is intellectual property. Digital technologies have driven a rise in new intellectual property claims and made it much more difficult to defend intellectual property.
Intellectual property is defined as "property (as an idea, invention, or process) that derives from the work of the mind or intellect". This could include creations such as song lyrics, a computer program, a new type of toaster, or even a sculpture.
Practically speaking, it is very difficult to protect an idea. Instead, intellectual property laws are written to protect the tangible results of an idea. In other words, just coming up with a song in your head is not protected, but if you write it down it can be protected.
Protection of intellectual property is important because it gives people an incentive to be creative. Innovators with great ideas will be more likely to pursue those ideas if they have a clear understanding of how they will benefit. In the US Constitution, Article 8, Section 8, the authors saw fit to recognize the importance of protecting creative works:
Congress shall have the power . . . To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.
An important point to note here is the "limited time" qualification. While protecting intellectual property is important because of the incentives it provides, it is also necessary to limit the amount of benefit that can be received and allow the results of ideas to become part of the public domain.
Outside of the US, intellectual property protections vary. You can find out more about a specific country's intellectual property laws by visiting the World Intellectual Property Organization.
The following sections address three of the best known intellectual property protections: copyright, patent, and trademark.