IPRs define the rights and privileges attached to ownership of intellectual property. Such rights allow owners to exercise a temporary monopoly over the use of their creations; they have exclusive rights, for a limited time, to decide who may use a product or work and under what conditions. Such rights define ownership and specify the degree to which inventors and creators may profit from their work, the access others may have to the works themselves or to information about them, and how others may use or improve upon existing works.
IPRs involve issues of wealth distribution, incentives for innovation and creativity, access to information, and basic human rights. Ethical issues attach to questions of what should be publicly or privately owned, how ownership is established, how much and how long the owner can control the property, and whether public policy should create exceptions to intellectual property rules to serve social interests.
IPRs encourage innovation by protecting new work from appropriation by others and allows people and institutions to profit from their work. Such rights promote the communication of information; as long as the right is in place, information can be published without fear of loss. IPRs also define public rights by indicating when private protections expire.
Rationales for IPRs fall into two categories, “instrumental rationales, which view intellectual property in terms of its benefits to society as a whole, and natural rights which stresses the inherent authority of innovators to control works they have created”. Instrumental rationales focus on the need for protection to promote societal goals, such as economic growth or technological innovation. Natural rights arguments, grounded in the philosophy of John Locke, assert that people are entitled to protection for the products of their minds, regardless of whether the protections serve other societal goals. The two rationales may lead to different policy decisions about the appropriate type and level of intellectual property protection.