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Cultural Preservation Through Intellectual Property Protection - What is culture, intellectual property, and IPR

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What is culture?

There are many definitions of culture that range from the biological to the anthropological. However, within the context of this essay, culture refers to the collective ideas, knowledge, traditions, values, beliefs and ways of doing things of a particular group of people that distinguishes that group from another group (Dictionary.com 2012). Culture is what gives this group of people an identity, and is peculiar to that group. It is what binds this group together, while making it different from another group. Further, culture is transmitted from one generation to another within this group of people, and is not necessarily passed on genetically (Parson 1949).

Some anthropologists stress that culture has both a tangible and an intangible aspect, being not only the artifacts, symbols, tools and creations of a group of people, but also the way these things are interpreted and used. Artifacts, tools, symbols and creations may be shared across cultures, but how these are interpreted, perceived and used are the same within one culture (Banks 1989). It is the interpretation of these things that gives a people their identity and defines their culture.

American anthropologists Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhorn in their publication Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions (1952), give an excellent definition of culture: 

"Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values"

John Bodley in Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States, and the Global System (1994) summarizes that culture consists of what people think, what they do, and the material products they produce (Jervis 2006). In essence, there is a knowledge aspect to culture – our knowledge, a doing aspect to culture – our way, and a material aspect to culture – our creations. The knowledge of what to do, knowing how to do it your way, and creating things from this knowledge in your peculiar way forms the very essence of what is today known as intellectual property.

What are Intellectual Property and Intellectual Property Rights?

When knowledge is put to use constructively and creatively, it becomes intellectual property, a valuable asset. Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce; and intellectual property rights (IPR) are the rights that have been awarded, by law, to the creators of intellectual work (WIPO, n.d.). The sole purpose of intellectual property and IPR is to protect the creation by giving full rights to the creator.

Intellectual property is divided into two main categories: industrial property and copyright. Industrial property covers, among other things, patents, trademarks, trade secrets, and geographic indicators of source. Copyright, on the other hand, covers literary and artistic works, which include, but is not limited to, photographs, books, music, plays, film, performing artists and their performances, and computer programs (the source code). There is also a new and emerging category of intellectual property called Sui Generis systems. The word Sui Generis is Latin, meaning of its own kind, and literally means unique. This type of intellectual property covers areas such as database protection and integrated circuit design (WIPO, n.d.).

Patents are granted to inventors for their creations, and prevent unauthorized use of their inventions by granting exclusive rights to the inventor (creator) preventing others from using their inventions commercially, for a fixed period of time, without their prior consent.

A trademark is a mark (letter, shape, symbol, or name) that is used to identify a company or its product; and geographic indicators of source are marks (names or symbols) that are used to identify the geographic origin of a product.

Industrial designs are used to protect the aesthetic aspects of an object (shape, texture, pattern, or color), rather than the technical features, whereas trade secrets are used to protect commercially valuable information about production methods, business plans, clientele, etc.

Copyright protects the way in which literary and artistic work is expressed, and not the idea that the literary or artistic work is trying to convey. It protects the expression of the idea and not the idea itself. Its purpose is to protect the creators of literary and artistic work from having their work reproduced, recorded, performed publicly, broadcasted, translated, or adapted, without their prior consent. There are also rights related to copyright that protect performing artists, producers, and broadcasting organizations.

Many of the intellectual property laws and treaties today exist to protect the creator of new and innovative creations, allowing them to profit financially from their creations if they so desire. While a people may not wish to profit from their creations, these mechanisms prevent others from duplicating their creations without their permission and profiting financially from it.