International Intellectual Property

International Intellectual Property (IP) Law is a patchwork area of intersecting multilateral and bilateral agreements and their resulting harmonization of national laws. It has become an increasingly important and frequently litigated area, particularly in the patent, copyright, and trademark areas.

In addition, in the past few decades, there have been louder calls for the protection of domain names, databases, software, and traditional knowledge. Many of these cutting-edge Intellectual Property issues are addressed on an international level through the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Along with new forms of protection, the trend towards globalization in the trade arena has had a direct effect on the harmonization of national Intellectual Property laws through the World Trade Organization (WTO) and regional trade organizations. The international treatment of Intellectual Property rights involves to a significant degree both the traditional concerns of public international law (i.e. the law of nations) and the concerns of the ‘conflict of laws’ or ‘private international law’ with the problem of determining in what jurisdiction to pursue a private legal dispute and what law will be applied to it. Intellectual Property problems, in that sense, involve both foreign and international law.

Similarly, basic knowledge of public international law is an advantage, but not required.

International Intellectual Property


  • Rationale, history, actors and main principles of the International IP system.
  • International IP in the World Trade Organization (WTO): interpretation, dispute, settlement and compliance.

Specific areas of IP protection

  • The international system for copyright protection (the revised Berne Convention, TRIPS, the WIPO ‘internet’ Treaties and the Marrakesh Treaty); responses to the digital, network environment
  • International trade mark protection (Paris Convention, TRIPS) and registration (Madrid Agreement, Madrid Protocol); geographical indications; public policy challenges.
  • Patent rights in international IP law (Paris Convention, TRIPS) and in other areas of international law (public health, human rights, biological diversity and traditional knowledge)
  • The enforcement of IP rights

IP in the wider context of international law

  • IP protection under free trade agreements (FTAs)
  • International Investment Law and IP rights
  • Human rights and IP

Is it possible to enforce your copyright overseas?

While there is no common international copyright law, enforcement of copyright overseas is possible and even simple, as long as the target country is a signatory of the various international IP protection treaties, such as the Berne Convention or the TRIPS Agreement. Most signatory countries do not require registering copyrighted works, and confer protected status from the moment of creation. However, since everything ultimately depends on national regulations, you should always review the legal situation in the target country.

How to protect IP overseas

Many small businesses have difficulty protecting their IP rights overseas because they do not know how to obtain, protect, and enforce such rights in foreign countries. Some of the things that these businesses should do include:

  • Working with a legal expert to devise an IP protection strategy
  • Developing comprehensive IP rights language for licensing or subcontracting
  • Performing thorough background checks on prospective foreign partners
  • Registering U.S. copyrights and trademarks with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • Obtaining and registering copyrights, patents, and trademarks in the most important foreign markets, especially those where IP rights are commonly violated