Post No.: 0235
This follows on from Post No.: 0199 and our brief overview of the different main areas of law, which I believe are very useful for everyone to learn about. Once more, one must check with the specific laws of one’s specific country, yet, due to globalised trade, there are a lot of commonalities when it comes to intellectual property laws…
Intellectual property law and intellectual property rights exist to protect the hard work and non-tangible individual property ownership of those who create original ideas or expressions of those ideas (or such property of their employers – so check who will actually own what intellectual properties if you are working for somebody else!) This is while trying to balance the creative commons or everybody’s rights to the collective good of resources.
Intellectual property (IP) includes copyrights (e.g. original artworks, written works and music in their material form i.e. ideas cannot be copyrighted – only the expressions of those ideas), trademarks (original brands via distinguishing logos, shapes, slogans, jingles or other such devices, including possibly colours or smells too, and their implied reputations), design rights/design registrations/design patents (the unique visual appearance of products), and patents/utility patents (novel inventions such as new technologies, processes or substances – as long as it hasn’t already been freely disclosed in the public domain, which includes if someone has invented it already but in another country).
There are also other types of intellectual property rights such as know-how or trade secrets (e.g. recipes, test data), plant-breeder’s rights and publicity rights. Trade secrets can be somewhat protected by confidentiality agreements or non-disclosure agreements, but there’s nothing to stop someone else independently and coincidentally coming up with the same know-how later on.
Apart from copyrights, protection is not automatic and must be applied for and periodically renewed with fees. Non-registered trademarks, which are automatic, may exist in some countries though. In the UK at least, there is no registry for copyrights but one may need to provide some way of proving that one did create a particular piece of material work, and importantly when, if there is ever a dispute about who came up with something first. There’s no need to place a copyright, trademark or patent number notice on works, although this can help others to understand that you own the intellectual property and gives them a clue about who to search for in order to seek permissions or licences for using those works if they wish to use them.
Regarding copyrights, Creative Commons licences are a relatively recent idea to allow people to specify ‘some rights reserved’ as opposed to either ‘all rights reserved’ or ‘no rights reserved’. This can help others to know where they stand if you permit them to, for instance, make derivative works from your creations, in a standardised way, without each individual needing to contact you for permission each and every time. This is beyond ‘fair dealing/fair use’ allowances, such as commentary, education or satire, which are automatically lawful but depends highly on a country’s individual laws so please check your own. Creative Commons licences understand that, in some contexts, the freer sharing of original works might enable a wider social good, and might even allow authors to acquire increased engagement with their audience and exposure for their creations, and open the way for potential collaborations or collective improvements of a work by making it ‘open source’ i.e. anyone can take an idea and try to adapt and improve on it, within some possible stipulations. Copyrights typically last for the life of the author plus a certain number of years, after which time a work becomes part of the public domain.
Note that when agreeing to the terms and conditions on social media platforms, for instance, you might continue to own your own content but agree that the platform can do whatever they want with it – which is like you still owning your own house but agreeing that this other party can come and go as they please as if they also live there too! So watch out for what you’re agreeing to when you click through those end-user license agreements or other agreements. Woof!
Trademarks apply to their specific areas of business, such as clothing or electronics – so a clothing and an electronics company can have the same brand name if they’re not going to be confused with each other since they’re in completely different industries. People aren’t really allowed to hog or squat on trademark applications and not make use of them so this is something to watch out for. For reputable brands, their trademark might be their most valuable feature; but of course reputations can sometimes very quickly become damaged, prompting a brand change (and hopefully more importantly a change of management too otherwise it’s just surface redecoration!)
Many people confuse design rights/design registrations/design patents with patents/utility patents – the former only protects the visual appearance of a three-dimensional product, such as its distinctive shape and aesthetic details. These protections are often relatively easy to get around because one can just tweak the appearance to look sufficiently different enough; but they are relatively cheap to apply for and to renew.
There is no such thing as a ‘worldwide patent’ or ‘European patent’. Applications can be made that seem like such due to treaties agreed between economic states or within economic blocs – but to ultimately receive a granted/issued patent(s), one must get a patent for each specific country, and pay the according fees for each specific country. Patents can sometimes be the most valuable assets on a company’s balance sheet, but they aren’t always the answer in a fast-moving world because of how long it can take to get a patent granted. In some cases it might be better to simply be the first to get to market and to market hard. Also, not everything that is inventive has a large enough market to justify the costs of a patent application. Patent rights can be transferred or assigned to another party, and licences can be granted to other parties for a limited duration, territory and use.
Be aware that you must personally monitor for any infringing parties and enforce legal action against them at your own cost – the state or patent and trademark office won’t do this for you! Of course this is easier for large, wealthy firms to do compared to relatively poor start-up individuals. Already having a lot of money can also help to expedite application processes too because applicants can pay extra for this.
Without IP rights existing, you could spend millions of pounds and thousands of stressful hours on researching and developing something and then perfect it… just for some outsider to steal and profit from all your efforts! It would severely disincentivise creativity, inventiveness and innovation in the economy because no one would want to be that gullible sucker to do all that hard, expensive and risky work! Yet the monopolisation of ideas is bad for the economy too hence IP protection usually has a time limit before they expire or need to be renewed with a fee (up to a maximum duration); at which time when they expire or renewal lapses, anyone can make use of the idea and express it in their own way in that country.
Some argue that IP law reflects quite a ‘Western’ or historically European notion of ownership and therefore does not reflect a universal notion of ownership. This area of law has become quite an international issue due to globalised trade and the Internet, hence the cooperation of different countries with different jurisdictions and laws is frequently needed for intellectual property rights to be effective in the real and modern furry world. The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) treaty is an example of this attempt at international cooperation.
Some people who don’t create valuable original works of their own lack enough empathy for the efforts of those who do create and want their original works to be protected. A consumer who freely copies and shares other people’s works may claim to not profit from this creation of someone else’s, but this action will impact on the profits of that creator nonetheless because fewer instances of their own work would be sold with compensation for their efforts thus impacting their financial interests, and it may also deprive the creator of the recognition for their own efforts too. Intellectual property can also help make sure that consumers aren’t misled about what they’re buying or viewing (i.e. that it’s not counterfeit but genuine and has passed the quality control and safety standards of a genuine product).
Yet when the shoe is on the other foot, a lot of people mistakenly believe that they’re legally entitled to a cut of the proceeds just because they voluntarily give someone else a great idea; or what they personally think is a great and truly original idea anyway. (We have a biased tendency to believe that our own ideas are more original, useful, pivotal and/or lucrative than other people’s ideas!)
…This has been just a short primer on the subject of intellectual property but I hope it has been enlightening. You may want to do your own further research or consult a legal professional if you have any specific matters regarding IP.
Woof! People who claim to have never stolen anything in their lives have likely at least stolen someone else’s copyrighted material before (e.g. illegal streams or downloads)! The crime is often anonymous, easy to do and is difficult to police on the Internet. Despite whatever attempted legislation may be moving forwards as of posting, there is an ongoing disagreement in the area of copyright laws and the Internet. This includes requiring tech giants to check copyrights and share their revenues with artists and journalists since these companies profit massively from sharing such works on their platforms and aggregators. It has its supporters and opponents. Please tell us what you think about this complex issue if you want, via the Twitter comment button below.