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What is Intangible Property?

Alexis W.
Alexis W.

Intangible property is property that has value but that is not tangible. In other words, you may be unable to touch the property, to physically see it, or to hold it in your hands. However, despite your inability to actually see the property, the property still has some type of actual value which the law recognizes and protects.

Common examples of intangible property include brand names and patents for ideas. For example, a brand name such as Nike or Apple has a value, even though you cannot actually see the value associated with the word. The value lies in the brand recognition, which is an intangible concept. Likewise, the ideas that are patented or copyrighted also have intangible value.

The Coca Cola recipe is both an intangible and tangible property.
The Coca Cola recipe is both an intangible and tangible property.

Some types of property has both tangible and intangible value. The intangible value may far exceed the actual tangible value. For example, the Coca Cola companies recipe for coke is a written recipe, and that written recipe is something tangible that you can touch. However, the intangible value- the ideas that go into that recipe- are what give it its value.

Written material may be considered intangible property.
Written material may be considered intangible property.

Society and the government recognize the value of intangible property, and protect this intangible property with a series of laws. For example, trademark law states that no one can use the a copyrighted trademark that belongs to another brand. This law recognizes the tangible value of the idea and the reputation associated with the trademark, and, as such, it protects the intangible value associated with the Nike swoosh or the Apple companies apple with a bite taken out.

Copyright law recognizes the intangible value associated with written material and music, and protects the transfer of this intangible property. This type of property also has some tangible value of course; books and music that are copyrighted can be physically transferred. Copyright law ensures that these intangibles, the ideas and the work that went into producing the product, are protected. These laws go far beyond just protecting the physical paper that the book is printed on, or the physical CD that contains the music.

Finally, patent law protects ideas. Even though the product has not been created yet, a patent prevents other people from stealing the intangible property that exists. This is important because without patent law, businesses would have little incentive to do research to come up with new ideas since as soon as they were successful in their research and development, someone else could come along and take their intangible property and make a profit off of it.

Discussion Comments


My cousin started his own business, and when he and his business partner finally decided on a name and a logo, they had it legally trademarked. This was wise, because it wasn't long before a similar business opened up nearby and tried to use the same name. They found out that they couldn't, because my cousin's brand was protected by law.

He also had all of his new ideas patented. He knew better than to take a chance in this situation. He had some really lucrative concepts.


I have written several songs, and when I finally got the chance to record a CD, I sent a copy of it to the copyright office. I had to pay a fee to have my songs copyrighted, and they sent me a certificate in the mail.

I wanted to make sure that no one ever tried to pass off some of my stuff as their own. I perform in a town full of musicians, and not all of them are honest. I've heard stories of songs being stolen, and since the writer didn't have a copyright certificate, he could not prove that they were actually his.


There has been a lot of talk about patent and copyright law lately. Apparently many of the laws on the books have been in place for many decades and in a lot of cases they do not reflect the changes in information and society that have remade the world in the last 30 years.

The internet has obviously raised a ton of questions about how to value information and who should get paid for doing what. This was first an issue with pirated music but it now extends to all the popular arts as well as software and data. The issues are complicated and I am far from being a copyright expert. But I appreciate that people who understand this kind of stuff are giving it some consideration and hopefully any changes they make will benefit both artists and consumers.


I heard someone say on the radio the other day that intellectual property will be the most valuable commodity in the 21st century. By this they meant that ideas, brands, images and characters will have more value than traditional sources of capital like goods and natural resources.

I tend to agree with them. Just look at out economy over the last few decades. People don't make a living by building things, they make a living by providing services and generating ideas.

And the value of certain brands is astronomical. Think about something like Disney. The value of the little mermaid as a character is far greater than the value of any individual product line. The can make tens of millions of dollars by just selling the concept and the image of the Little Mermaid in countless different forms. Intangible property is a big thing these days.

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    • The Coca Cola recipe is both an intangible and tangible property.
      By: RTimages
      The Coca Cola recipe is both an intangible and tangible property.
    • Written material may be considered intangible property.
      By: gosphotodesign
      Written material may be considered intangible property.