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Intellectual rights (from "French: droits intellectuels") is a term sometimes used to refer to the legal protection afforded to owners of intellectual capital. This notion is more commonly referred to as "intellectual property", though "intellectual rights" more aptly describes the nature of the protections afforded by most nations.
Both terms were used in Europe during the 19th century as a means of distinguishing between two different views of intellectual protection. "Intellectual property" was generally used to advocate a belief that copyrights and patents should provide rights similar to physical property rights. The term "intellectual rights" was used by those who felt that such protection should take the form of temporary, limited grants.
Although most modern copyright systems do not treat copyrighted or patented materials in the same way as real property, the term "intellectual property" has gained prominence. For more on this subject, see "intellectual property".
Also, at least three different kinds of capital and rights are involved:
- creativity (individual capital) which implies rights to benefit from one's free expression
- invention (instructional capital) which implies rights to benefit from having created some more efficient device or process
- reputation (social capital) which implies rights not to have one's name or specific distinguishing tagline or ethic sullied by imitators or rivals
All three capital terms predate the term intellectual capital, which appears to be a 19th-century artifact of early, now-discredited, economic theory.
In 20th-century Europe also originated another more modern approach, intended to sweep away the differences between the historical "Intellectual Property" and "Intellectual Rights" camps, allowing every creator both perpetual and temporary rights:
- Moral rights became the unalienable part of the rights every author was entitled to. These rights could generally not be waived;
- All other intellectual property rights were to become both limited in time and tradeable.
Note that this is one of the chief differences between U.S. and EU approach towards Intellectual property rights up till the early 21st century, in that the crystallisation of this modern approach (the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works) is still only partially put in practice in the U.S., and, where applied, this is done largely outside the legislation regarding IP.