One thing intellectual property is not, is a single unitary area. It is rather a collection of different types of intangible property (and indeed some non-property rights) which are conveniently grouped together and which do have features in common. The law does not however deal with intellectual property as such, though use (and misuse) of the expression has created an impression that it has a validity that is in fact lacking.
This Wiki is devoted to the law on intellectual property in the United Kingdom, so if you're looking for information about somewhere else's law you should look again, or if you do read what's here you should treat it with care.
Definitions of intellectual property
The statute book contains 20 definitions of intellectual property, though in unexpected places: the most frequently cited is the Senior Courts Act 1981 (originally named the Supreme Court Act 1981), section 72(5), as amended, which says:
The Companies Act 1985, section 396(3A), defined intellectual property as:
(ii) any licence under or in respect of any such right.
The first of these definitions, the first attempt to define intellectual property in a statute, was connected with the removal of the privilege against self-incrimination in infringement cases (though not in associated criminal proceedings). The second of these definitions relates to registration of company charges, is in part of the 1985 Act that never came into force and is now replaced by section 861(4) of the 2006 Act. Neither definition does the job for an intellectual property lawyer, but they do help focus attention on the elements that make up this area of law.
The subject is also usually taken to include confidential information and the law on passing off, which are not truly property rights. These definitions omit database right and rights in performances, and there are also some minor intellectual property rights such as plant varieties protection and publication right.
Intellectual property is sometimes referred to as industrial property - the two are not exactly synonymous, but any distinction has largely lost its meaning. The Paris Convention of 1883 is concerned with industrial property, but it dates from a time when copyright had no industrial application apart from the fact that copyright works could be reproduced by industrial methods: the extension of copyright to computer programs now places copyright firmly within any rational definition of industrial property. The expression "intellectual property" itself can be traced back to 1769 , although it only became commonly used as an umbrella expression for the diverse property rights that comprise the subject in the late 1970s.