What Are Incorporeal Rights?

Incorporeal rights are rights that can't be seen or touched but are still enforceable by law. Generally, incorporeal rights have to do with intangible property such as copyrights, licenses, rights-of-way, and easements. Incorporeal rights are also known as intangible rights, and the incorporeal property is also called intangible property.

Key Takeaways

  • Incorporeal rights are rights that can’t be seen or touched, often dealing with intangible property. 
  • These rights, also known as intangible rights, are still enforceable by law.
  • Incorporeal rights often cover property, such as easements and copyrights. 
  • There are generally two kinds of incorporeal rights—jura in re aliena (i.e. encumbrances) and jura in re propria (intangible property ownership). 
  • Just like other rights, incorporeal rights are transferable and inheritable. 

How Incorporeal Rights Work

Unlike real property that can be physically quantified, intangible property is conceptual in nature. However, the rights associated with the intangible property—the incorporeal rights—are just as valid as the rights associated with real property. Incorporeal rights don’t cover tangible property, such as real and personal property—e.g. land and equipment.  

There are two types of intangible property, pure intangibles and documentary intangibles. Pure intangibles include such things as debts and intellectual property rights. Documentary intangibles include assets tied to documents, such as bills of landing or promissory notes. However, thanks to the rise of technology and electronic documents, the distinction between pure and documentary intangibles are less distinct. 

Special Considerations

In general, incorporeal rights give the owner a set of legally enforceable rights, either over tangible property or over the ownership of intangible property. For example, an author who holds incorporeal rights over the copyright of their work has the legal right to control when and how that work can be reproduced. 

However, the author does not have tangible rights over the finished book; the reader who buys that book also buys tangible or corporeal rights over the physical book as a piece of personal property that can be bought, sold, or destroyed at the owner’s discretion. In this way, incorporeal rights are different from the corporeal rights over the property carrying those incorporeal rights.

Just like other rights, incorporeal rights are transferable and inheritable. Intangible property can be sold, traded, willed or given. The rights associated with the intangible property will transfer along with the property.

Types of Incorporeal Rights

There are generally two kinds of incorporeal rights. First is jura in re aliena, or encumbrances, which include incorporeal rights over corporeal things. Such rights can include leases, easements, rights-of-way, mortgages, and servitudes. In this way, one can have incorporeal, or intangible, rights over a corporeal, or tangible, property, such as in the right to quiet enjoyment of a property that is conferred with a valid lease agreement.

The second kind of incorporeal right is jura in re propria, which refers to the ownership of intangible property. This type of right includes trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other types of intellectual property. In this way, one can have full ownership of property that is incorporeal, or intangible and does not have a physical presence.