In our increasingly knowledge-based global economy, intellectual property (IP) plays a vital role in promoting innovation, creativity, and competitiveness. However, many U.S. businesses, particularly small and medium-sized exporters, do not realize that their IP—copyrights, patents and trademarks—are not protected abroad. They mistakenly assume that their domestic IP protection is universal. In fact, businesses should take steps to protect their IP both in the United States and in each country where they plan to do business. How about your business? Learn more about international IP protection, and how to protect and enhance your asset and competitive advantage internationally.

How to Protect IP Abroad

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Considerations for International IP Protection

Intellectual property (IP) refers to a broad collection of rights relating to works of authorship, which are protected under copyright law; inventions, which are protected under patent law; marks, which are protected by trademark law; and designs and trade secrets. No international treaty completely defines these types of intellectual property, and countries’ laws differ in significant respects. National intellectual property laws create, confirm, or regulate a property right without which others could use or copy a trade secret, an expression, a design, or a product or its mark and packaging.

The rights granted by a U.S. patent, trademark registration, copyright, or mask work (design of a semiconductor chip) registration extend only throughout the United States. Rights provided by a foreign country may be greater or less than rights provided under U.S. law. There is no such thing as an international patent, trademark, or copyright. Copyright protection depends on national laws, but registration is typically not required. There is no real shortcut to worldwide protection of intellectual property. However, some advantages and minimum standards for the protection and enforcement of intellectual property exist under treaties or other international agreements. 

Get Help

The U.S. Department of Commerce can assist businesses with international IP protection. Start by visiting, which offers many online tools and resources:, the U.S. federal government’s export portal, also offers resources, including the following:  

  • Webinars on “Documentation and Regulations” offer additional insight into IP issues.  

  • Country Commercial Guides provide market intelligence on more than 140 countries from U.S. embassies abroad. These often include an overview of the IPR regime in individual foreign countries.

  • Locate a trade expert and learn about the services of the U.S. Commercial Service’s global office network.

  • A Basic Guide to Exporting provides basics on IP protection along with additional web links. See also Chapter 10: International Legal Considerations

  • State bar associations can be a good source for locating international lawyers experienced in IP issues.