An original creative idea that can be developed into something more tangible, such as an object, a poem or a story, or a drawing, is the intellectual property (IP) that underlies that tangible product. Just as there are legal rights and obligations associated with the ownership of physical property, there are legal rights and obligations associated with the ownership of IP.
A book, for example, is tangible, physical property that can be bought and owned. A book can be sold or lent to others. The words and pictures in a book are IP and are likely to be copyright, owned by the author and publisher of the book. You cannot sell or copy those words and pictures (except small extracts for your own study or research) unless you also own the IP in the book.
The IP rights most relevant to Technology students are trade marks, patents, registered designs and copyright. Each of these IP rights is property that can be owned, sold, hired, licensed (a licence is simply a legal term for a permission to do something) or given away.
More detailed information about trade marks, patents, and registered designs is available on the IP Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) website, www.iponz.govt.nz. The site also has databases of registered patents, trade marks, and designs. Anyone can search the databases to check that a product or mark has not already been registered by somebody else. Note that copyright is not registrable anywhere – it arises automatically by law.
Developed for Technology Online from a study by Susan Corbett, Louise Starkey and Ann Bondy, Victoria University of Wellington.