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The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) defines intellectual property as “creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce”. 

Intellectual property rights [IPRs] are protected by laws which prevent creations from being used by others, or set conditions on such use. Intellectual property protection is divided into two categories: industrial property and copyright. Industrial property includes patents for inventions, trademarks, geographical indications and industrial designs, and copyright covers a broad range of other work, including literature, films, music, artistic works and architectural design.

WIPO argues that intellectual property rights are important because the guarantee of exclusive future benefit encourages investment and innovation. However, others have argued that this is not supported by evidence; for example, the Economist has emphasised that many great inventions occurred before the advent of intellectual property rights, and contends that strengthening IPR regimes in various countries has not led to more innovation.

This Briefing provides an overview of the historical development of two strands of intellectual property law in the UK, that of copyright law and of patent law. It then provides a brief overview of statistical information regarding women and the filing of patents, and suggests further reading on the theme of women and intellectual property.

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