The 1883 Paris Convention established the International Union for the Protection of Industrial Property, also called the Paris Union. The convention is open to all states. Its most important functions have to do with patents for inventions and marks for goods and services.
The term industrial property is applied in its widest sense in the convention. In addition to inventions, industrial designs, trademarks, service marks, indications of source, and appellations of origin, it covers small patents called utility models in a few countries, trade names or the designations under which an industrial or commercial activity is carried on, and the suppression of unfair competition.
The convention states that members must provide the same protection of rights in industrial property to nationals of the other members as they provide to their own nationals. It permits foreigners to file for a patent that will apply in all member states within a year after first filing in the country of origin. Additionally, it defines conditions under which a state may license the use of a patent in its own territory—for example, if the owner of the patent does not exploit it there.
The 1886 Bern Convention established the International Union for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, also called the Bern Union. It also is open to all states. Its function is the protection of copyright, the main beneficiaries of which include authors of books and articles; publishers of books, newspapers, and periodicals; composers of music; painters; photographers; sculptors; film producers; and creators of certain television programs. Under the convention, each member state must accord the same protection to the copyright of the nationals of the other member states as it accords to that of its own nationals. The convention also prescribes some minimum standards of protection—for example, that copyright protection generally continues throughout the author's life and for 50 years thereafter. It includes special provisions for the benefit of developing countries.
In 1893, the secretariats of the Paris Union and the Bern Union were joined in the United International Bureaus for the Protection of Intellectual Property (BIRPI).
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) was established by a convention signed at Stockholm 14 July 1967 by 51 states. When the convention entered into force on 26 April 1970, WIPO incorporated BIRPI and perpetuated its functions. BIRPI still has a function for members of the Paris or Bern unions that have not yet joined WIPO.
WIPO became the fourteenth specialized UN agency, the first new one since 1961, when the General Assembly approved that status on 17 December 1974.