What are the Different Types of Property Law?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Property laws are very important to the creation and maintenance of a system of ownership. Many regions have very specific laws to guide the buying, selling, inheritance, use, and reproduction of property. There are two main types of property law, generally referred to as "intellectual" and "real." Within these two large categories there may be a wealth of statutes and systems that deal with specific aspects of the law.

Property law can protect against graffiti and other vandalism.
Property law can protect against graffiti and other vandalism.

Intellectual property law may cover any type of property that originates as an idea. This means that the property's inherent worth may be intangible; instead of being a productive piece of land or a house, a piece of intellectual property may be a character, artwork, design, blueprint, or song. The value of this property exists in the idea of it, thus this type of law seeks to protect the right of the owner to this idea.

A design or blueprint can be considered intellectual property.
A design or blueprint can be considered intellectual property.

Many types of intellectual property law deal with the creation of systems that delineate ownership and use of any type of intellectual property. Trademarks, copyrights, and patents are all the result of law that decrees that an owner or creator will have sole use of a piece of intellectual property. Infringement of a property protected by this law may be a civil or criminal crime that may result in jail time, fines, and other legal penalties.

The other major type of property law deals with tangible objects, such as land, real estate, furniture, or possessions. In these cases, the value of the property is in its physical, or real, form, thus it is usually called "real property law." The scope of real property law is to create a system of ownership and rules against infringement.

With real property, ownership is usually granted through titles or ownership papers. These may guarantee the right of a person or entity to the sole use of a piece of property, whether it is a farm, a high rise building, or a flat-screen television. Titles prove that a person legally owns an object, and are therefore very important documents that require safeguarding.

Property laws for real property also prevent against the unlawful or misuse of a piece of property by a person not designated as the owner. This may include squatting, graffiti or vandalism, or other illegal activities on the property. It may also include crimes such as breaking and entering or trespassing, which are sometimes considered a form of property infringement.

Some types of property law deal with tangible objects like land and real estate.
Some types of property law deal with tangible objects like land and real estate.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


If intellectual property makes you the most cutting-edge property law attorney, real property likely makes you the most old-fashioned. That's what I do, and nobody has ever accused me of being exciting, at least not at work.

Real property is an old and established field of the law, but ironically the cases are really about much the same thing as intellectual property cases are about: Who owns what, what can other people do with it, and how much do they have to pay?

A wise man once said, "Buy land, they aren't making any more of it". That is very true, but it doesn't stop people from arguing over what is already there.


@Veruca10 - You are right about that. I work in the federal law enforcement system dealing with this kind of crime, and we have to turn down 10 or more cases for every one we take. We simply don't have the resources. It's like shooting fish in a barrel, but we are limited to going after the really big distributors for the most part.

As internet access gets cheaper and faster, it looks like we'll be seeing more of this, rather than less. Even with security and encryption software being used by some of the companies, the users figure it out in no time and it's right back to square one.

Anyone looking to get into the practice of law nowadays, think long and hard about getting into intellectual property. You will be busy.


As a law student, I am very interested in intellectual property. This seems like it is going to be one of the hottest types of up-and-coming law practice for a long time, since technology is changing so fast.

With so many things going into digital form, and the ability to move huge amounts of data around nearly for free, it is getting really hard to enforce copyrights and collect royalties due for books, movies, music, and software. More and more people do not even see anything wrong with copying and sharing this type of media.

There are laws considered all of the time to deal with this, and occasionally some are passed. Thousands of court cases come up every year for the alleged illegal use and trading of digital files.

I figure that if I can get in on the ground floor with a firm that practices this type of law, I will certainly never hurt for work.

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