What is IP anyway and why should I care?

ideas intelectual property iplaws Apr 06, 2023
intellectual property

Having surveyed my email and social media contacts to discover people’s greatest challenges around branding and intellectual property (IP), I’ve created some recordings answering common questions. I’ll send them to you over the next week or two.

In the meantime, I’d like to highlight that as IP is unfamiliar to many people the predominant question is essentially “what is intellectual property anyway? And why should I care?”. So, let me tackle that here.

IP is a property right similar to how land and houses are property rights. You can’t touch or feel IP because it’s intangible. But it’s nevertheless a type of property right.

IP rights aim to ensure creativity and innovation can flourish. Indeed, IP is the asset class of the 21st century, so if you don’t yet thoroughly understand IP, you would do well to learn about it.

The starting point is to note that IP is created when you write something, invent something or design something or create a thing that exists in the world, such as a business. It’s called “intellectual” to denote the fact that what’s created starts in the mind.

It’s important to be aware how IP rights arise so that when you implement your ideas, you ensure you will be the owner of the IP that’s created.

The person who owns the rights in intangibles like inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, names, images, trade secrets or other IP may use the force of the legal system to stop other people stealing or copying what’s theirs. Hence, the owner of IP rights is the one who earns financial benefit from their IP. That’s why it’s important to learn about how IP ownership rights are determined by the legal system. The rules often lead to surprising results that catch people out because they assume they will automatically be the owner just because something was their idea and they paid someone else to implement the idea.

Some people have difficulty understanding the importance of IP because they are not aware of the types of IP protection available, such as patents, copyrights, trademarks, industrial designs, and trade secrets. They simply haven’t been taught it, so it’s not surprising they don’t know what IP is, and what actions they need to take to secure IP rights that are generated in their business or by themselves.

In parts of China IP is taught in primary schools. I believe the West should do likewise and educate tomorrow’s workforce in the IP principles they need to know to navigate the digital, internet environment. Certainly, every business owner needs to learn the IP principles that underpin business design. This is not about learning the minutiae of the law though.

IP is how you can increase your market share, attract investment, generate income or enhance your reputation. Another name for reputation is brand. Indeed, that’s the first question I’ll be answering in my next email, namely, “Is a brand intellectual property?”

I’ll end this newsletter by highlighting a question one person asked, namely “Who needs what you provide? (And, indeed, what exactly do you provide in the simplest of terms?) How do you get your clients from A to B, and what exactly is the 'A' and what is the 'B' ? Can you describe them both in the simplest possible way”?

My answer to the first part of the question is that I provide a variety of legal services through Azrights to enable people to secure IP rights in creations, and to enforce their property rights. Through Brand Tuned I offer education and training in IP because IP isn’t just about having legal work done for you. Among other things, it’s about understanding how brand protection impacts ideas such as choice of names, and other branding decisions. That’s how you will be able to make good choices of names and designs and take the right steps to protect your business.

Business is a competitive arena. Becoming commercially savvy is essential to success. Learning IP makes you commercially savvy. For example, you should expect others to try to steal or copy your ideas if they’re good ones that make you money. IP knowledge equips you to protect what you create so you can earn financial benefit from your creations without competitors getting in your way. A lot of “protection” comes from creating barriers to entry, or a moat around your business, and IP, such as the right choice of name is a big part of it. I’ll be explaining why this goes beyond involving lawyers to do availability searches and to register trademarks for you.

To better understand some of the main ways I get my clients from A to B, and what exactly the 'A' is and what the 'B' is, I’d suggest looking out for my emails during April when this will become clearer. In the meantime, I hope what I’ve explained about IP in this email makes it easier to understand why the A and B are too varied to boil down to a simple sentence or two.