Why IP is an Essential Life Skill?

2023 Mar 08, 2023
intellectual property is an essential life skill

I’ve been thinking about purpose. Is it something we just have and need to discover? Or is it something we develop? What’s your experience?

It seems apt to think about purpose today on International Women’s Day because knowing your purpose helps increase your effectiveness and success. And I hope conversations about equal opportunities today will reflect on purpose as one way us women might achieve greater success. Knowing your purpose helps you put your energies in the right direction.

Intellectual property (IP) has gradually become my purpose, in that I want to change the way society thinks about it in relation to branding and brand management. It’s a tall order, but that’s my aim! Yet, if I look back on my life, when I was a child or young adult, nothing would have suggested that this would become my life’s purpose.

Focusing on a topic means you inevitably notice aspects of it that are not apparent to everyone else. So, I’ve become aware of fundamental problems around IP and branding that others don’t necessarily notice, even if they’re IP lawyers. And now it’s become my purpose to raise awareness and change perceptions about how IP impacts branding and brand management.

When the publisher of my Brand Tuned book remarked during a podcast interview, “why should designers and marketers know the law, they’re not lawyers after all”. I didn’t process her comment initially. I only ‘heard’ it later. And it was a revelation to me that she didn’t see that there’s a difference between knowing general IP principles, which are part and parcel of business design, and knowing the detail of IP laws, which is the province of lawyers. She is probably not the only one to assume that IP is purely a subject for lawyers.

When you turn your knowledge and skills (your informal IP) into value by inventing something, writing something, designing something, or otherwise creating a thing that exists in the world, IP principles determine what actions to take if you are to derive the benefit of your ideas. It’s about knowing why, how and whether to involve lawyers.

For example, if you intend to build a website, you need to first ensure you will get ownership rights in it and in the domain at which it will be located. If you’re going to sell a new type of food product, you would do well to consider how best to protect the recipe so others can’t copy it. If you’ve got a new innovative concept, such as Tesco had when it initially introduced loyalty card schemes, you need to create a strong barrier to entry.

IP principles equip you to avoid making fundamental mistakes, so you benefit from your ideas and don’t have their true value stolen. Nobody gets rights in mere ideas. It doesn’t matter that you thought of something first. Someone else may derive more benefit from your ideas than you do if you’re not aware how IP principles determine ownership rights.

IP principles are about understanding how and why to create barriers to entry to increase your chances of success. It’s about knowing when and why to use legal agreements with third parties assisting you, and what types of names are appropriate to your business plans.

Knowledge of IP principles is key to navigating life successfully and building assets that belong to you. IP principles are general business information that everyone needs to understand to better design, structure and manage a brand.

The fact is, IP principles are universal. They’re similar the world over. And they’re essential life skills to learn. Did you know that in parts of China, IP is taught in primary schools?

So, I’m on a mission to educate business owners, marketers, designers, lawyers etc to use IP correctly when designing and managing brands. That’s the way to increase a business’ success.

Back in Charles Dickens’ days, when he wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’, the book was an immediate success, selling 6,000 copies on the first few days of its release. However, despite the book’s success, Dickens did not make much money out of it.

In those days, copyright did not protect works like books, in countries outside the jurisdiction in which the book was first produced and published. Therefore, after a ‘Christmas Carol’ was published, copies started popping up abroad, in places like America, where publishing houses were able to produce them very cheaply. They gave Dickens absolutely no financial benefit.

It took another 50 years after the publication of a ‘Christmas Carol’, for the Berne Convention to be established giving authors copyright protection over their work outside their own country. Since then, there have been other international treaties that countries have signed up to, to co-ordinate their approach to IP protection.

Most developed countries belong to the World Trade Organisation, and so will have signed the most recent treaty which is known as the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

It's due to the existence of these international treaties, that the world today has an international approach to IP rights. IP laws differ in each country. However, the general approach to IP – what I call IP principles - tends to be similar everywhere.

What this means is that you won’t find that in some countries, names are protected by copyright while in others they’re protected by trademarks. What each IP right covers is similar across the world. And the IP actions you need to take when turning your ideas into things that exist in the world, are also similar everywhere.

The fact that IP principles tend to be similar internationally means that anyone providing a branding service or who manages a brand, needs to learn IP principles in sufficient depth to correctly use IP. There’s a lot to learn, but it’s not about learning the minutiae of any specific country’s laws.

I will soon release a new Brand Tuned program on designing a distinctive identity using IP effectively. I hope you’ll consider joining it. More news will follow soon, so keep an eye out for my next email.